Prelims completed, season about to begin

Marvin Westwestwords

The peak of weekend excitement was the UT announcement that the Volunteers would return to their traditional orange jerseys and white pants for the Tennessee Tech game.


Hooray! Great news!

The idea of restoring things to how they should be generated enthusiasm all across Big Orange Country. Word was 17 additional tickets were sold.

Soon thereafter, the Golden Eagles, visiting from Cookeville, were vanquished. Josh Heupel took the illogical matchup seriously. Tennessee intercepted four passes. Eight Vols scored touchdowns. Chase McGrath kicked eight extra points. Hendon Hooker, in his first start, threw three TD passes and ran for a score. He and I thought he played pretty well. He did overthrow a deep receiver or two and lost another fumble.

Reserve quarterback Harrison Bailey made an appearance, played a quarter and change, missed badly on a big bomb, got sacked once, escaped serious pressure once, made a correct option read and scored on a two-yard run.

Tennessee got another good all-around performance from the defense and wore out the visitors with the 56 points. We don’t know what that means. Tennessee Tech isn’t very good. It previously lost to Samford by 38 and Furman by 30

Coach Heupel said all victories are good, enjoy this one, but conceded there are “controllables” out there that his team needs to control.

Agreed.

We also know things are going to be different from now on.

The Vols face a challenging trip to Florida and the real beginning of the season. Did you see how the Gators scared the fourth-quarter daylights out of the Crimson Tide? They came close to disrupting all of college football.

Don’t be distressed by the 16.5-points betting line. It may get worse.

In times past, some bad things have happened to Tennessee at Florida. The Vols have lost eight in a row in the Swamp. One setback was 59-20. Another was 34-3.

Before that, in 1995, the Gators reeled off 48 consecutive points. Those Vols, thought to be the No. 4 team in the country, gave up 62 that day. Sophomore Peyton Manning did what he could. He did not play defense. It might be said others didn’t play all that much.

I’ll not name all the names but a couple of famous Vols – Leonard Little and Terry Fair – were in that defensive lineup. The rout was not a world record but 62 was the most Tennessee allowed in 102 years. Duke scored 70 in 1895.

There was a secondary setback for Manning. Sports Illustrated had sent top writers and photographers to Gainesville for a cover story on the young Tennessee quarterback. Danny Wuerffel snatched away the prize.

Thankfully, that was then. These Vols have other concerns. Their passing game remains erratic. With receivers running open, Hooker and Bailey threw much too deep as Joe Milton had done in previous games. I do hope the affliction is not contagious.

Heupel, asked if he finds any satisfaction in receivers getting behind defensive backs, said no.

“At the end of the day it’s about 11 guys playing together as one.”

Secondary translation: Receivers would probably be more productive if they had a chance to catch the ball. Make note of the fact that certain sinners have dropped some they should have caught.

The offensive line has been less than awesome. It did not knock Tennessee Tech off the line of scrimmage. Center Cooper Mays and his bad ankle is a noticeable absentee. Tackle Cade Mays went away after a knockdown block. Guard Kingston Harris limped off. That doesn’t leave many spare parts.

Heupel would never dump excessive blame on offensive linemen, even if all were present. He said the running attack has been restricted by “a combination of everything at times.”

There are other physical concerns. Running back Jabari Small didn’t play. Something is wrong with punter-kicker Paxton Brooks. Middle linebacker Juwan Mitchell took the day off. We don’t know if Milton couldn’t play or was resting while growing stronger.

Some, maybe all, will be healed in time for Florida.

The team reduced the number of penalties but still committed painful infractions. Velus Jones returned the opening kickoff 88 yards but most of that was erased by a violation.

Tennessee’s defense has been a pleasant surprise. We’ll soon see how much difference a different level of competition makes.

Let us pause for one happy salute for senior linebacker Solon Page III.

Solon (rhymes with Nolan) was in zone coverage. He stepped in front of a pass intended for a tight end, caught it, ran through obstructions and scored a touchdown – his first moment in the spotlight in five years as a Volunteer.

In some of that time, Page served on special teams and played now and then as a reserve linebacker. I recall a tackle against Alabama in 2020. His real claim to fame was the academic honor roll.

Solon emerged in spring practice. He started his first game a few days ago, against Pitt. He made six tackles, one for a loss.

This pick six was a big deal. He celebrated with teammates. Better yet, he shared a moment with his parents, who just happened to be standing and cheering in the particular corner of the north end zone where their son arrived.

Michelle may have shed a few tears of joy. Solon Page II was very proud.

Said Solon Page III: “He’s been with me throughout this whole process. He was actually my first coach.”

Sometimes, football is such a great game.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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