On top 20-13, with 7:33 left to go in the third quarter on
Saturday, Vols fans were wide-eyed and full of positivity. Then, that Rocky Top
color seemed to fade into Gator (Fanta-esk) orange in a matter of minutes. Tennessee
eventual fell 37-20 to Florida and when it was all said and done, Gameday had
packed up, Corso was fast asleep and head coach Derek Dooley was thinking of
how his team can play a complete four quarters, going forward, against superior
UT faces a lonely 1-2 Akron team at home this week, before Dooley’s destiny in Knoxville is defined.
The Vols start their SEC slate by heading between the hedges to Athens to face Mark Richt’s Bulldogs. #5 Georgia is eighth in the nation in scoring, averaging 47.3 points per game, behind quarterback Aaron Murray. The Bulldogs have been battle tested, defeating Mizzou 41-20 in Columbia, and are set to face Vanderbilt this week.
After Georgia, Tennessee packs up for Starkville to clash with the other Bulldogs, in #23 Mississippi State. For all intents and purposes, Mississippi State should be undefeated by then, only facing South Alabama and Kentucky, prior to playing the Vols.
At home against Nick Saban’s #1 Alabama Crimson Tide, and then on the road to face ‘The Ole Ball Coaches’ #7 South Carolina Gamecocks, the Vols gruesome core schedule is finally complete.
These four games will define Tennessee as a contender, Dooley as a SEC coach and seal his fate on whether he stays or goes. In 2011 and 2010, the seasons were essentially lost after losing four straight to Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina in the month of October both years. During his coaching tenure at Tennessee, Dooley is 4-13 against SEC teams and 13-15 overall. Those numbers don’t shine
Consistency extends contracts for coaches but also signs pink slips if one is on the losing end. Dooley has time and again folded when playing Florida, but more importantly, wavered within the nucleus of his schedule.
With quarterback Tyler Bray fully healthy, a plethora of quality receivers, a defense that can create turnovers like they did against NC State, Tennessee has tools to succeed.
Dooley will be defined by the outcome of four games this season. If he loses all four, he’ll start calling dad for contacts. One win and no bowl, he’ll start dusting off the resume. Win two or more games against Georgia, Mississippi State, the Tide and the Gamecocks, look for Dooley to initiate a search for more real estate in the Smokey’s.
Photo courtesy of TNJN/Rackley, Wade