As the college football season unfolds, it seems we’re learning a lot about the teams we follow.
Or are we?
Week 2 of the season, for most teams, just ended and it seems we are left with as many questions as we are answers.
How about we take a look close to home? Tennessee needed overtime to take down 17th-ranked Pittsburgh on the road. I have to admit I was wrong about this one. Pittsburgh was better than I thought it was and I think, for a while, the Vols were lulled into a falses sense of supremacy early in the game.
Either that, or it was too jacked up for it. Probably a permutation is the best explanation.
It was stunning out of the gate that Tennessee’s “unstoppable” offense, according to ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, was stoned for a pair of three-and-outs during its first two possessions. As a result, the Vols were looking up at an early 10-0 hill.
For Tennessee fans, this was a frustrating game to watch. How many opportunities did the Vols stagger Pitt, yet couldn’t put it away? The Vols pounded both Pitt quarterbacks, knocking one out of the game in Kedon Slovis, rendering the next one, Nick Patti, limping when it ended. Yet the Vols kept trying to give it away.
Defensively, the Vols were aggressive up front, but far too often, the secondary played soft. Much of that was poor angles and execution, which can get fixed, but, still. It made for a gut-wrenching day.
Tennessee’s offensive line play was up and down. Often, it gave quarterback Hendon Hooker plenty of time. Then, it couldn’t open lanes for the running game.
There were too many costly penalties and too many careless turnovers, the muffed punt catch late in the game among them.
There were too many dropped passes and too many overthrows of wide open receivers. Sure, Cedric Tillman had nine catchers for 162 yards, but don’t you think he was capable of 200 or more without the drops?
Sounds like Tennessee lost by 20, doesn’t it?
Guess what, the Vols did persevere on the road against a ranked football team…and won in overtime 34-27. When Tennessee needed it to happen, it made plays on both sides of the ball. Receivers made clutch catches, Hooker made clutch throws, the defense came up with negative plays and sacks that made a difference.
When the Vols made a mistake, they had the maturity to reset and not dwell on the past. When the scoreboard wasn’t looking too good, the Vols figured out a way to find the right playmakers to eventually take control of the game and do so on the road.
In spite of all that went wrong against a veteran Pitt team that was better than I thought it would be, the Vols still figured out a way to win. That’s the most important statistic of all.
The good news is that Tennessee has good film to evaluate. It can go back to work on the practice field this week and try to fix the the shortcomings of the Pitt game and prepare for its glorified scrimmage with Akron this coming Saturday.
Sometimes, teams need a game like this to fix what’s broken and gain confidence. For many, this was a must-win game for the trajectory of this program. Mission accomplished. But there’s work to do moving forward.
It may have been ugly, but imagine being a fan of Notre Dame, Texas A&M or Florida this week.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishin and the host of The Pressbox radio show, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT, Monday-Thursday on 95.9 FM, WRJB, Camden, Tenn.