Overheard at Neyland Stadium: “It sure is convenient having Vanderbilt as our in-state rival. We can have a George Cafego Memorial Game anytime we want one.”
The long-ago Hall of Fame tailback and long-time assistant coach hated, HATED, I tell you, the haughty Commodores of times past. They hurt his knee. He called them bad names.
Nothing happened Saturday to improve relations. Tennessee twice hit Vandy’s quarterback when play had been stopped. Coach Clark Lea demanded proper punishment. He ran onto the field and was penalized for lack of sportsmanship. Emotions overflowed and two or three Commodores thought they wanted to fight.
If they are no better at brawling than they are at football, a real rumble would have been a dreadful mismatch.
The game was bad enough at 48-24. Joe Milton had his finest performance – four touchdown passes and two touchdown runs. Jaylen Wright became a thousand-yard rusher. Receiver Ramel Keyton finally achieved stardom.
Now that you asked, Squirrel caught 10 balls and dropped two or three. Nico was one notch up from incidental. Walk-on Will Brooks made the most tackles. Officiating was spotty or worse and there were some empty seats.
The Vols more than doubled Vandy in total offense. One of the visitors’ scores was a gift from Dee Williams. He fumbled a punt. Vanderbilt rushed for 78 yards.
Tennessee has an 8-4 record. It appears a Gator Bowl bid is forthcoming. Vanderbilt has lost 10 in a row and all eight Southeastern Conference games by 16 points or more. Its three-year reconstruction program is a wreck.
Keyton, applauded for TD receptions of 56 and 46 yards, offered insight on the Vol season.
“It’s been up and down, but we’ve raised expectations, the standard of this program. I feel like our senior group did a good job with that.
“It’s not like Tennessee is expecting to win eight games. That may be good for other schools. Our expectation is like national championship, SEC championship. We didn’t get it, but that’s still the expectation, and I’m pretty sure next year, they’re going to get it, so that’s good.”
Upon reflection, Vol fans may decide 8-4 isn’t all that bad. How the team looked in the second quarter at Florida, the second half against Alabama and the entire Missouri game are leftover problems. The visit by Vanderbilt was healing ointment and a band-aid.
Now comes a more serious set of circumstances, roster management, recruiting wrap-up, transfer portal (coming and going), staff assessments and a careful study of depth and development.
There must be a reason several young players are still “young players” instead of much improved.
Tennessee walloped Vandy without half a lineup of top talent, four offensive linemen, two top receivers, the best defensive back, a really good defensive lineman, the top freshman linebacker and the most mature linebacker.
The Vols started the season without center Cooper Mays and finished Game 12 without Cooper Mays. Blessings on Ollie Lane. He lined up wherever coaches pointed, here, here or there. Give thanks that Commodores were on the other side of the football.
Josh Heupel hopes you will see the Tennessee situation the way he does: not too shabby considering the state of the program he inherited, coming off a three-win season and mass exodus amid an investigation into recruiting violations by the previous staff.
“I’m proud of this group. They’ve worked extremely hard. They’ve prepared the right way. On game day, they’ve been resilient. They continue to fight and compete … we’ve all had some disappointment. Everybody in that locker room, coaches, me – everybody – when we don’t end up on the right side of the scoreboard, man, there’s disappointment.”
Milton was so happy to get the proverbial shoe on the other foot, to be congratulated for a victory instead of blamed for losses to Missouri and Georgia. He said this was pretty much all he could ask, responsibility for six touchdowns, first Vol to accomplish that feat since Jonathan Crompton against Memphis in 2009. Joe threw for 383 yards.
“I didn’t do it alone. I had a whole bunch of guys with me.”
Joe said he knew all week in practice against Vandy formations that he had tight ends as needed. He connected with Jacob Warren and McCallan Castles for touchdowns.
“Just do your job, just do your job at a high level.”
Milton went back to the six scores for a minute.
“Six touchdowns wouldn’t happen if the other 10 guys weren’t doing their job at a high level.”
He praised the patchwork offensive line. He said last Sunday, they didn’t even know who could play.
“I feel like those five who were out there with me, they played their hearts out.”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com