Vols play ‘Good, Bad and Ugly’ but pluck Gamecocks

Marvin Westwestwords

Most of you have now seen the Tennessee football version of “Good, Bad and Ugly.” We didn’t have Clint Eastwood but the other stuff fits.

The Volunteers were good as gold against South Carolina in the first quarter – three touchdown passes by Hendon Hooker, a very exciting catch and a bombs-away, plus a scoring run by the rather remarkable quarterback.

The second quarter wasn’t bad. It featured a very large opening up front and a 45-yard dash by Tiyon Evans.

Third-quarter results were bad, ugly, even hurtful. The Tennessee offense developed a split personality. It was inexplicably inept and klutzy. The offensive line went into remission.

To quote a famous author, the Vols sputtered, staggered and stopped. They didn’t cross midfield on three possessions. Evans suffered an ankle injury. Old faithful Paxton Brooks sent forth a 24-yard punt. Another special team awakened in time to see the conclusion of a fake punt and touchdown pass.

I do believe fans were aghast. One said the unthinkable, that the black uniforms had gone bad. The Gamecocks, strangely full of fight, actually created the illusion of a comeback.

Hooker made a third-down run that restored some semblance of order in the fourth quarter. The Vols got a late touchdown.

Negatives scarred my first draft of this review. I was tallying disappointments when I suddenly realized the Vols had trashed another SEC foe, 45-20. They hit hard and never stopped hitting. They intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. They were a little short of perfect but they are 2-1 in conference combat, same record as Alabama, better than Florida.

Some observers and most players probably believe, no matter how many are injured, they can ward off or outshoot Ole Miss, coming next to historic Neyland Stadium.

Stats tell part of the Tennessee-South Carolina story. Hooker finished 17 of 23 for 225. Two completions and eight yards happened after halftime. Hendon endured six sacks.

Velus Jones and Cedric Tillman had six receptions each. Jones had more yardage, 103, and a touchdown. Tillman made a tough catch in heavy traffic. Hooker apologized for throwing it there.

Rediscovered Jalin Hyatt snagged a TD pass with a Gamecock all over him. It was a timely moment in the spotlight. His younger brother was visiting as a recruiting prospect.

JaVonte Payton ran behind the Carolina secondary and Hooker dropped in a beautiful long ball. Nothing like that occurred last season or in the first two games this year.

Evans and Hooker were the strong running attack until Evans was sidelined. Len’Neth Whitehead doesn’t look much like Tiyon but he scored the late TD.

It will be a little too much if Evans can’t go against the Rebels. There is an alarming shortage of able bodies.

Alabama transfer Brandon Turner, third choice at the nickel position because of injuries, led the Vol defense with 14 tackles. Linebackers were active. Jaylen McCollough intercepted a trick-play double pass in the end zone. Alonte Taylor intercepted a two-point conversion attempt.

To word it another way, Luke Doty threw the ball directly to Taylor because several other Vols were doing exactly what had been assigned.

Doby also mishandled a snap. Aaron Beasley emerged from that scramble with the ball.

If we leave out the nit-picking, the net result was very interesting, starting with play selection. The game was entertaining, starting with the quarterback. The winning margin far exceeded expectations. The betting line was 10.

Optimism is justified. The Vols could finish with a winning record.

“There is a lot to be proud of,” said Josh Heupel.

The coach also said there are issues that must be corrected. He spoke of a great learning opportunity. He said things that happened in the first half didn’t happen in the second. He got that right.

“You pull off a little bit, lose focus a little bit…”

Development of individuals, continued improvement of team functionality and reduction of errors and infractions are very important. Recruiting is critical. It does not appear to be gaining on the leaders.

Heupel is keeping the faith.

“We want to be the fastest, most aggressive team on the field every Saturday, and not just offensively, but in all three phases. I know recruits are seeing that, week in and week out. They can see us growing as a football program. They see the fun our players are having in the build-up and how we perform on Saturday.”

Let us focus on the positives: 2-1 SEC record, same as Alabama.

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

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