Sinking Toward Shreveport
The Vols’ season keeps going from bad to worse
by Tony Basilio
Just got back from what I saw of the UT-Memphis game. Boy, it feels good to get a win! A win over anybody matters, even a Memphis team that was a near three-touchdown underdog. A Memphis team that was down to only one healthy defensive lineman. A Memphis team playing with their fourth-string quarterback who is really a converted wide receiver. A Memphis team minus stud running back DeAngelo Williams who apparently didn’t feel like playing. Tennessee did feel like it, because our Vols don’t quit even when they should.
Bob Kesling is on the radio counting it down as I type! I think we won. I’m having trouble following it. I’ve had a lot of trouble following the fourth quarter. Apparently, so has he. My kids decided it was time to leave late in the third quarter so I’ve relied on Bob to bring it home—a 20-16 final? A win is a win is a win is a win! You’ll have to excuse Kesling for a couple of confusing calls in the fourth quarter. Watching this Tennessee team all season long can’t be good for anybody. I feel sorry for the poor guy having to sit through every play of that slop.
It’s official. Neyland Stadium has died. That game felt like it was being played in a 107,000-seat living room. You know, theater-type stadium seating. It’s not that the Vols gave the hundred thousand or so folks on hand much to cheer for. Sure, Rick Clausen delivered when it mattered. Which reminds me, how many times has Rick Clausen rescued Phillip Fulmer this year? Let’s see, how many times has Clausen been tossed aside?
Tennessee was down 13-0 before the crowd could get in their third round of booing toward Erik Ainge. If Clausen is not there (and believe me, he came very close to quitting this team after one of his many benchings this year), Tennessee never comes back. Not even versus a Memphis team that was beyond shorthanded. Memphis may be one of the worst football teams to extend Tennessee late into a football game in Neyland Stadium history, which is apropos, since it all happened on Homecoming ’05. What was driven home is how much work this team has to do to get back to respectability. When you can’t handily defeat an already mediocre, MASH unit-resembling Memphis team that is quarterbacked by a fourth-string quarterback and is also playing without a Heisman Trophy candidate running back, you’ve got major problems. Tennessee, how low can you go? And this was a win, so why am I and so many other Vol fans shaking our heads? This team is even tough to take in victory. There’s winning ugly and then there’s the game I just attended.
That was a bad football game in every sense of the word bad. With the win, and loss, both UT and Memphis have 4-5 records. Memphis recruits 4-5 talent. They’ve actually exceeded their talent with the type of injury-riddled season they’ve had. What is Tennessee’s excuse? This was a win, and I’m looking for something to feel good about.
At least there was some tasteless entertainment provided by the Neyland Stadium crowd. Vol faithful have apparently decided that Erik Ainge is no longer welcome. Shame on those of you who choose to boo college kids such as Ainge, who is to quarterbacking what the great Wade Houston was to Xs and Os. Ainge under the tutelage of outgoing quarterback guru and offensive genius Randy Sanders has once again lost a job that he won by default. His line today reads, “Ainge 1 of 3 passing for 6 yards with 1 interception.” UT’s starting quarterback had as many picks as completions. His second pick (the one that didn’t count) drew a thunderous Bronx Cheer from hundreds of Vol faithful below me in section N. Not even the ’88 Vol team saw anything this wretched. Memory fails whether it was after Ainge’s first interception or his second (which was wiped away by penalty) that an ingenious UT fan rose to his feet with a sign that read:
Tickets To Watch the Vols: $38
It should be noted that former UT quarterback Casey Clausen was on hand to watch his brother lead the Vols to another ’05 victory. Casey, who is now an assistant at Mississippi State, could be considered the most underappreciated quarterback in recent UT memory. That is of course if you discount his brother. Think UT’s season is ugly right now? Let’s pretend that Rick Clausen followed through on his intention to quit the squad the week before the LSU game: UT would be a two-win football team going into Vanderbilt. That we’re even talking about the fact that a team captain not only toyed with the idea of quitting on his teammates but publicly admitted as much, says it all. UT’s ’05 edition is a team that just won’t quit even when it seems like the right thing to do. Shreveport, here we come!
Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.