Tennessee is now 3-3 on the season and 0-3 in the SEC after a 41-31 loss at Mississippi State on Saturday. Top-ranked Alabama visits what will likely be a half-crimson Neyland Stadium on Saturday and UT travels to South Carolina the week after that. In other words, the Volunteers are staring down the barrel of an 0-5 conference start and a 3-5 record overall.
With a coach on the hot seat and a season on the brink, a couple of Vol linebackers helped arrange a players-only meeting in an attempt to get everyone on the same page.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that fifth-year senior Herman Lathers and sophomore AJ Johnson were behind the come-to-Jesus session. According to Lathers:
“We pulled some of the guys together and we said, ‘If you don’t want to play, go down to the scout team. We’re tired of losing here and things are going to change and things are going to change this week. Guys that weren’t doing it right, we’re going to kick them off the field.”
That’s a heckuva statement. And you have to wonder what UT’s coaches might think if they sent someone onto the field only to have the players send them right back off.
In the long history of midseason “the losing stops now” meetings, the results are usually defined by the talent on the field and not the fire-and-brimstone speeches. Tim Tebow made his “promise” in 2008 to Florida fans and, by God (hey, it’s Tebow!), the team did follow his lead all the way to a national title.
But on the other end of the spectrum, Auburn’s Philip Lutzenkirchen was bragging about an attitude-adjustment session on the Plains just last week. Then the Tigers promptly went out and lost 41-20 to Ole Miss on Saturday.
Dooley cannot afford a collapse from his squad. Certainly not like the uninspired performance his players put forth in a season-ending loss to Kentucky last year that riled the Vol fanbase and turned up the heat on UT’s coach.
Unfortunately for Dooley, the Vols face a team in Alabama that squeezes the life out of one victim after another. The ex-Saban assistant spoke of the Crimson Tide’s talent advantage yesterday:
“We all know about Alabama. They’ve been the standard in college football the last four years…
They have absolutely annihilated everybody that they have played: physically and on the scoreboard. They are deep, they are talented, they just change jersey numbers every year, but the guys all look the same…
They draft, we recruit. And they get the first 25 picks of the draft…
You catch yourself watching them, not studying them (during film sessions).”
It would be hard for anyone to argue with Dooley on any of those points. Still, a few Tennessee fans might wonder why their coach is basically writing the front cover of Bama’s recruiting brochure for them.
Then again, Dooley served as Saban’s recruiting coordinator at LSU earlier this decade. If things don’t turn around in Knoxville…