John Adams: Next up is biggest game of season

Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell (17) throws a first-quarter pass against South Alabama during their NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell (17) throws a first-quarter pass against South Alabama during their NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Recap: Tennessee at Georgia

Florida and Alabama are the obvious candidates when Tennessee fans debate the team they would most like to beat. Georgia and South Carolina probably come next.

After what happened last November in Lexington, Ky., UT fans also could get revved up about the Vols exacting revenge on Kentucky, which ended a 26-game series losing streak last year. But the biggest game of the season suddenly has become Mississippi State.

And that's not just because it's next.

This has become the most important game of coach Derek Dooley's three seasons at UT. The significance was apparent as soon as UT lost to fifth-ranked Georgia 51-44 on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.

If the Vols had held their seven-point, second-half lead against Florida or if they had upset Georgia, the Mississippi State game wouldn't be as crucial. There would be more margin for error.

Now, it likely will determine where the UT season is headed — and perhaps, whether the Dooley era will reach Season 4.

A victory over Mississippi State would be UT's first against a nationally ranked team since October of 2009. It would set Tennessee up for a strong finish and a possible 8-4 season, which would be its best since 2007.

A loss would set the Vols up for a fall comparable to last season's.

I realize sports often don't go according to form. So, if UT loses to Mississippi State, you can't assume it would lose its next two games as well, even though Alabama and South Carolina are unbeaten and prominently situated among college football's elite. But would you bet against it?

Answer: Not if you check UT's recent history.

Adversity has been compounded with these guys. You have seen that from one game to the next or from one play to the next.

The problem was glaring against Florida, which UT outplayed for two and a half quarters before collapsing in the face of a late Gators surge. That's why Saturday's game against unbeaten Georgia was so significant.

After falling behind the Bulldogs 27-10 in the first 19 minutes, the Vols rebounded to take the lead. After Georgia moved back in front by 14 points in the second half, the Vols bounced back again.

Despite such resilience, how could you expect them to come back from a loss to Mississippi State? That would kill any hope they had of winning the SEC East and would leave them 0-3 in conference play with No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 South Carolina next on the schedule.

But if they could beat Mississippi State in Starkville, the outlook might change considerably. Their losing streaks against nationally ranked teams, and against conference opponents on the road would no longer be pressing topics. And their confidence would get a bigger boost than their record.

Increased confidence doesn't mean they could knock off Alabama or South Carolina. They likely would be more competitive in both cases, though, just as they were against Georgia.

Since the Mississippi State game has become so important, the Vols should be grateful for their open date. It couldn't have come at a better time. In the midst of four consecutive games against nationally ranked opponents, this one is the most winnable. So much the better to have more time to prepare.

The Vols need every advantage they can get.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 104

fearthehound writes:

A reasonable analysis.

FWBVol writes:

I don't want to sound overconfident about Mississippi State, but I believe the Bulldogs are very beatable. Yes, they are undefeated and only giving something like 13 points a game. However the only team with a winning record that MSU has beaten is Troy and that score was 30-24. The other wins have come against Jackson State, Auburn and South Alabama.

I believe our win over NC State is a better win than any Mississippi State win this year.

This off week will be a great time to try patch up some of the holes in the defense, which is still a work in progress. Most of the so-called experts say it takes a half season or a little longer for a defense to really start understanding and get comfortable in a 3-4. We are approaching that half way point in the season and I think we will start to see improvements on the defensive side of the ball.

An 8-4 season is still very much within our reach, and we could end up going 9-3 and hae a nice bowl game. But, by the same token, if the team doesn't keep moving forward it could be a 6-6 year and end up in Memphis or Nashville for the bowl.

smokeygrowl writes:

Did Adams just say a loss to Mississipi State Would kill any chance of Tennessee winning the East? Man I'm pumped if we beat State we are still in this thing.

VolsFanForLife writes:

Very good report and couldnt agree more. UT could change the rest of this season with a win over Miss State. I'm not ready to say that we could even compete with the likes of Alabama or South Carolina but after the game at Georgia I can see some improvement. The Defense will get better and did show some resiliency against Georgia when the game was on the line. With a win, it could give them enough confidence to get an upset win in one of the next games.

orangecountyvols writes:

South Carolina IMO is the better chance for a win as opposed to the Alabama game, of course. Lattimore and of course Shaw running the ball is the tandem for the Gamecocks........just as Marshall and Gurley were for Georgia.

Miss State is a winnable game with this same intensity the Vols brought against the mutts.
And, at times S Carolina can be fairly shaky.
Shaw in that game is the key.

jobrando#216494 writes:

Dooley's job is riding on this win along with winning the last four. I'm thinking 7-5 want be enough to keep him at UT.

DeltaCharlie3 writes:

in response to smokeygrowl:

Did Adams just say a loss to Mississipi State Would kill any chance of Tennessee winning the East? Man I'm pumped if we beat State we are still in this thing.

Win or lose against MSU, you got no shot at the SECe.

voloffaith writes:

in response to DeltaCharlie3:

Win or lose against MSU, you got no shot at the SECe.

Ahh the quiet Sunday evening invaded by a trollodyte with nothing better to do...leave gater website(if even went their) to show low life approach by spouting in where not necessary...

Go VOLS!! rest up and prepare for the next dog on schedule..

AtopTheHill06 writes:

I'll be in Starkville. Tenn had played well there in recent trips, let's hope it continues.

UT4prez writes:

in response to DeltaCharlie3:

Win or lose against MSU, you got no shot at the SECe.

You're probably right. We'd have to run the table and get a lot of help. I don't think your Gators will win it but you never know. UGA will beat SC this weekend. They're the team to beat. I don't know what to think about LSU and UF. I thought LSU all along but they are looking rough the last 2 weeks. Should be a great defensive battle.

rclarkvols#224537 writes:

No disrespect intended to Tyler Bray but I wish we had honered the committment to Taj Boyd because I think he's better.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

South Carolina IMO is the better chance for a win as opposed to the Alabama game, of course. Lattimore and of course Shaw running the ball is the tandem for the Gamecocks........just as Marshall and Gurley were for Georgia.

Miss State is a winnable game with this same intensity the Vols brought against the mutts.
And, at times S Carolina can be fairly shaky.
Shaw in that game is the key.

Agreed, USCe are beatable as well as MSU..There is no reason why UT can't win both of those games and give Bammer a scare on the way..GBO!

ashvol7 writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

Dooley's job is riding on this win along with winning the last four. I'm thinking 7-5 want be enough to keep him at UT.

I trust that Dooley can find a DC in two weeks, he certainly doesn't have one! Send him back to Alabama along with Hart!

papavol writes:

in response to smokeygrowl:

Did Adams just say a loss to Mississipi State Would kill any chance of Tennessee winning the East? Man I'm pumped if we beat State we are still in this thing.

lmao, a loss to both UF and UGA most certainly seals your fait in the SEC east. That is to NOT be the division champ. On the other hand, it is still possible to win this thing, if everybody else loses 3 sec games which, as you already know, and UT goes undefeated. in other words John...

NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. (but i do like your optimism)

Vols20 writes:

in response to rclarkvols#224537:

No disrespect intended to Tyler Bray but I wish we had honered the committment to Taj Boyd because I think he's better.

Boyd wouldn't put up near the numbers he has at Clemson playing in the SEC. I think he is talented, but I can't say he is better.

SIMSVOL writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

Dooley's job is riding on this win along with winning the last four. I'm thinking 7-5 want be enough to keep him at UT.

This is where all the yahoos like jobrando have it wrong. Dooley is a great coach and I hope he's our long-term coach at UT. He's a great motivator, recruiter and Xs and Os man. Anyone who thinks Dooley is on the hot seat is a troll and not a true VOL fan. Focus on the next opponent team and the true fans will be there for you. Go VOLS!!!!

manniesghost1903 writes:

Vol nemesis, John Adams, is right about this game. On paper UT's offense is much better then Mississippi's version of the Bulldogs. However, the defense makes UT vulnerable in this game. I also believe this contest will be a key to Derek Dooley being able to return as head coach next year. My feeling is a UT loss will probably result in Hunter and Bray foregoing their senior season and enter the NFL draft. If these two big playmakers go, the current commits will not be able to replace the offensive power of Hunter and Bray. Consequently, a loss I think would adversely affect this season and next season as well.

sambad writes:

Our linebackers are getting too close to the line on some of the running plays and then getting walled off by a good blocking offensive line. Look at Marshall's second TD and see how Johnson was trapped.

smokeygrowl writes:

Adams listed a loss to State as killing any chance of Vols winning East. Is he nuts.
We just lost to our two biggest rivals in the division. Vols are out of East race now. I agree. No chance of winning East.Just like I agree with the fact DeltaCharlie won't have the company of a woman in my lifetime. If Dooley beats state it could be bad in long run. Beats State loses to Bama and South Carolina. Has good November Keeps job and continues to get beat next year by FLA GA AND BAMA.

GatorHater1998 writes:

Vols 33 miss st 26
Bama 42 Vols 14
Vols 30 south car 27
Vols 49 Troy 17
Vols 42 mizzou 30
Vols 35 Vandy 20
Vols 45 KY 13

I think our 1st big upset comes against south carolina.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to DeltaCharlie3:

Win or lose against MSU, you got no shot at the SECe.

Sorry Troll. It would be very tough, but not completely out of reach.

It would take us beating MSU, S.Car, and Bama, along with the ones we fully expect to win (Vandy, UK and Mizzou).

Florida could easily lose three in their remaining schedule (LSU, S.Car, UGA).

The final piece of the puzzle that would be the most unlikely one to fall into place would be for UGA to lose three conference games with the ridiculous schedule they have left. Unless Florida beat UGA and got upset by somebody else, UGA would have to lose to S.Car, and then to 2-out-of-3 of UK, Ole Miss and Auburn -- I really don't see any chance of that happening.

On the other hand, strange things can, and often do, happen in this league.

hikerdude writes:

We did so much better against Ga on the offensive side than I thought we would. The running game was actually pretty good. I thought before the Ga game that we had little chance against MSU, but now I am hopeful. If we do lose to MSU, I'm afraid that the team will quit, like they did against Ky last year and Fla in the 2nd half this year.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to papavol:

lmao, a loss to both UF and UGA most certainly seals your fait in the SEC east. That is to NOT be the division champ. On the other hand, it is still possible to win this thing, if everybody else loses 3 sec games which, as you already know, and UT goes undefeated. in other words John...

NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. (but i do like your optimism)

Yeah. If there are enough major upsets in the division, and we pull off unbeaten the rest of our SEC schedule, then we could back door into the SECE Champ like S.Car did two years ago.

Not likely, but we can dream, can't we? Besides, for that to happen, we have to beat the Crimson Turds, and that, in and of itself, would make life grand.

murrayvol writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

Sorry Troll. It would be very tough, but not completely out of reach.

It would take us beating MSU, S.Car, and Bama, along with the ones we fully expect to win (Vandy, UK and Mizzou).

Florida could easily lose three in their remaining schedule (LSU, S.Car, UGA).

The final piece of the puzzle that would be the most unlikely one to fall into place would be for UGA to lose three conference games with the ridiculous schedule they have left. Unless Florida beat UGA and got upset by somebody else, UGA would have to lose to S.Car, and then to 2-out-of-3 of UK, Ole Miss and Auburn -- I really don't see any chance of that happening.

On the other hand, strange things can, and often do, happen in this league.

Uh, I'd call that way past strange Deux.

Stooley_Dinks writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

Dooley's job is riding on this win along with winning the last four. I'm thinking 7-5 want be enough to keep him at UT.

7-5 certainly makes it iffy. And, it would likely mean a must win for every game in November. That is a lot of pressure.

However, if we are competitive in our losses and win the bowl game, he could eke it out. That is a worst case scenario for the program though. 7-5 and only winning the easy games with this team means Dooley will struggle if he loses Bray and Hunter.

I want him to either win 9 or lose 6. I don't want perpetuated mediocrity.

SummerfieldVol writes:

Gut check time. Time to find out just what kind of team we are, this is when the players have to look at their selfs and decide if they are giving 100% or not, how hard are they trying to play their position better. We will find out our next game. Are we winners or are we losers?

beartn#223846 writes:

<<Win or lose against MSU, you got no shot at the SECe.

Sorry Troll. It would be very tough, but not completely out of reach.>>

I interpreted Adams statement is how the team would react with an 0-3 SEC start and no chance at the SEC East vs. a 1-2 start with a slim theoretical shot at winning the East (no, I don't think anyone thinks we can actually win the East). My guess is that Adams thinks, and I agree, that it would be harder to get motivated after an 0-3 SEC start. This is a must win game.

Also, I think 7-5 and continued improvement keep Dooley around another year, expecially since his buyout goes down significantly after the 2013 season. I think our offense is significantly better than last year, with a decent running game and an SEC caliber offensive line. I think our biggest shortcoming, aside from learning the 3-4, is lack of speed in the secondary. Every RB and WR on other teams seem to be able to outrun our DB's. If they get past our LB's, which is too often, they are gone. I hope some of our DB commits are 4.3 guys.

thevoice writes:

in response to SIMSVOL:

This is where all the yahoos like jobrando have it wrong. Dooley is a great coach and I hope he's our long-term coach at UT. He's a great motivator, recruiter and Xs and Os man. Anyone who thinks Dooley is on the hot seat is a troll and not a true VOL fan. Focus on the next opponent team and the true fans will be there for you. Go VOLS!!!!

Sims = KNS plant.
or
Sims = 3rd grader or lower.
or
Sims = Captain Naive.
or
Sims = Part of Dooley's immediate family, likely of the section that's a closed loop.
or
Sims = Has never watched football during current lifespan.
Take your pick. Therefore,
Sims = Completely irrelevant.

voloffaith writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Ahh the quiet Sunday evening invaded by a trollodyte with nothing better to do...leave gater website(if even went their) to show low life approach by spouting in where not necessary...

Go VOLS!! rest up and prepare for the next dog on schedule..

ah yes spellcheck 101 strikes for the weak and afflicted....."their" = there....."fait" = fate...."defence" = defense....is a sports blog so misspells are not a biggy unless blatant overuse occurs in one single post....GO VOLS BEAT DOGS #2!!

skyhawk836 writes:

Who does Miss. State play this week?

murrayvol writes:

in response to skyhawk836:

Who does Miss. State play this week?

at Kentucky.

FYI Google's got all the schedules at your disposal.

skyhawk836 writes:

in response to murrayvol:

at Kentucky.

FYI Google's got all the schedules at your disposal.

Thanks.
Maybe UK will make them work.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

and you don't tease us very long with intelligent post aspirations. After just one, those dreams are history.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to skyhawk836:

Thanks.
Maybe UK will make them work.

You never know. UK sure made S.Car. work.

skyhawk836 writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

and you don't tease us very long with intelligent post aspirations. After just one, those dreams are history.

Good one.
I like it when a pr*ck gets hosed.

volmac72 writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Totally hilarious!!

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

in response to SIMSVOL:

This is where all the yahoos like jobrando have it wrong. Dooley is a great coach and I hope he's our long-term coach at UT. He's a great motivator, recruiter and Xs and Os man. Anyone who thinks Dooley is on the hot seat is a troll and not a true VOL fan. Focus on the next opponent team and the true fans will be there for you. Go VOLS!!!!

Disagree, Boyd is far better than Bray. Hands down.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to sly_stone99#434111:

Disagree, Boyd is far better than Bray. Hands down.

I can't agree with that, the level of competition isn't equal enough to make that comparison..I will say if TB were more mobile he would have probably won both SEC games this year..But when the dust settles he will be drafted in the NFL in the 1st or 2nd round while Boyd will probably be an un-drafted free agent.

thevoice writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

I can't agree with that, the level of competition isn't equal enough to make that comparison..I will say if TB were more mobile he would have probably won both SEC games this year..But when the dust settles he will be drafted in the NFL in the 1st or 2nd round while Boyd will probably be an un-drafted free agent.

I do like Boyd's mobility. I wonder if the competition in the ACC is equal to the losses Bray has suffered in the SEC.

tturley#297658 writes:

Wonder what Woody Woodenhofer is doing the next few weekends? We need some help coaching Defense, and quick. Three straight games of 70+ yard plays and over 500yds offense by UGA and UF spells a quick demise to Dooley's coaching career at UT. UGA was on pace to get 1,000 yards after the first quarter. Bama might break OU's national rushing record of 600+ yards. This might get ugly folks, it's already bad.

chbradshaw writes:

Let's see...Derek Dooley's work product is getting noticeably better and John Adams claims he may lose his job.

John Adams work product has become much worse over the years. Why doesn't he lose his job?

It would save UT money on the hot dogs in the press box.

gatorhator4eva writes:

i could give a phooey if we win any games before bama. spoiling bamas second title would be well worth the loses to me. i think are team is learning the hard way. getting better every week. i think those bammer fans better start preparing for there trip to knoxville. i smell an upset a brew'in.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to thevoice:

I do like Boyd's mobility. I wonder if the competition in the ACC is equal to the losses Bray has suffered in the SEC.

Probably the FSU loss Clemson suffered, the rest not so much.

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

Based on what I have seen thus far, Tennessee has a better chance against South Carolina than Miss State. Miss State is playing better ball than South Carolina right now.

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

in response to gatorhator4eva:

i could give a phooey if we win any games before bama. spoiling bamas second title would be well worth the loses to me. i think are team is learning the hard way. getting better every week. i think those bammer fans better start preparing for there trip to knoxville. i smell an upset a brew'in.

We have ZERO chance of beating Bama. This Bama team looks like an NFL team. Their 2 running backs will run all over our defense.

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

in response to FWBVol:

I don't want to sound overconfident about Mississippi State, but I believe the Bulldogs are very beatable. Yes, they are undefeated and only giving something like 13 points a game. However the only team with a winning record that MSU has beaten is Troy and that score was 30-24. The other wins have come against Jackson State, Auburn and South Alabama.

I believe our win over NC State is a better win than any Mississippi State win this year.

This off week will be a great time to try patch up some of the holes in the defense, which is still a work in progress. Most of the so-called experts say it takes a half season or a little longer for a defense to really start understanding and get comfortable in a 3-4. We are approaching that half way point in the season and I think we will start to see improvements on the defensive side of the ball.

An 8-4 season is still very much within our reach, and we could end up going 9-3 and hae a nice bowl game. But, by the same token, if the team doesn't keep moving forward it could be a 6-6 year and end up in Memphis or Nashville for the bowl.

I disagree about NC State. As bad as Auburn is they are better than NC STate. Auburn nearly beat LSU. NC State couldn't stay on the field with LSU.

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

in response to FWBVol:

I don't want to sound overconfident about Mississippi State, but I believe the Bulldogs are very beatable. Yes, they are undefeated and only giving something like 13 points a game. However the only team with a winning record that MSU has beaten is Troy and that score was 30-24. The other wins have come against Jackson State, Auburn and South Alabama.

I believe our win over NC State is a better win than any Mississippi State win this year.

This off week will be a great time to try patch up some of the holes in the defense, which is still a work in progress. Most of the so-called experts say it takes a half season or a little longer for a defense to really start understanding and get comfortable in a 3-4. We are approaching that half way point in the season and I think we will start to see improvements on the defensive side of the ball.

An 8-4 season is still very much within our reach, and we could end up going 9-3 and hae a nice bowl game. But, by the same token, if the team doesn't keep moving forward it could be a 6-6 year and end up in Memphis or Nashville for the bowl.

Miss State has a solid pro style offense this year with a much better defense than we have. I don't see why you are over confident? Have you even watched them play? I have and they look better than we do. They sure know how to tackle in open space.

bigdisbig writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Ahh the quiet Sunday evening invaded by a trollodyte with nothing better to do...leave gater website(if even went their) to show low life approach by spouting in where not necessary...

Go VOLS!! rest up and prepare for the next dog on schedule..

Ahh the delusional Vol fan who dreams of wins in the SEC under a coach who has hypnotized them into feeling good about being a LOSER.

IF Saban, Spurrier, Miles or any other winning coach in the SEC had this team they would be on top of the SEC East right now at 5-0.
Dream all you want delusional Vol fans but when you wake up the reality is your team can't win big games in the SEC.

BruisedOrange writes:

FTA: "But if they could beat Mississippi State in Starkville, the outlook might change considerably. Their losing streaks against nationally ranked teams ... would no longer be pressing topics."

First thought: That's a very valid point.

Second thought: Next week State probably loses big to Kentucky and drops out of the national rankings.

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