I want my fellow students to know that this year's Tennessee football team has inspired me to write a book. The book, due on bookshelves the next time this squad blows my mind with its ineptitude, will be titled A Comprehensive Guide to Wasting Your Talent. Or maybe The Idiot's Guide to Underachieving via Apathy. I'm not sure which.
Here is a brief outline of my book.
Chapter 1 - "Offense"
Is it just me, or has the University of Tennessee program always taken pride in running the football? Since the days of General Robert Neyland, there have been three certain things in East Tennessee: death, taxes and a bruising ground game. In this era, from Charlie Garner to Jay Graham to Jamal Lewis to Travis Henry to Travis Stephens, UT has had a 1,000-yard rusher just about every season for about a decade now.
And this season, with Wyoming, Middle Tennessee and Rutgers on the schedule, UT ranks 80th nationally in rushing yards per game. This team, despite five talented running backs and a huge offensive line, couldn't rush to the front row of a Shakira concert.
And someone, anyone, other than Kelley Washington and Jason Witten must step up. Maybe Phillip Fulmer will consider finding a wideout where Arkansas found a quarterback two years ago - the intramural fields. As for "The Future," look for throws his way despite the double coverages he will see from now until he reaches the NFL. I'd try it, and so will Clausen. Bet the farm on it.
Chapter 2 - "Defense"
Okay, there may be a few excuses here. The Vols have lost their two best pass rushers (Constantin Ritzman and Kevin Burnett) as well as linebackers Kevin Simon (broken ankle) and Tony Campbell (grades) for the season. But, once again, excuses only go so far in an elite program. The same Vol defense that is top-10 nationally year in and year out couldn't tackle Rex Grossman in a phone booth.
And the secondary, one of the most talented groups of athletes I've ever seen, seems intent to disappear for at least one 10-minute stretch in each game with busted coverages, missed assignments, etc.
Chapter 3 - "Special Teams"
The forgotten third of the game has been just that - forgotten. With the exception of booming southpaw punter Dustin Colquitt and the daredevil-like kick returns of Corey Larkins, this unit has been awful. Alex Walls, as reliable as a beer at a frat party in the past, has battled a pulled quad muscle and pulled up lame again Saturday after coming up short on a 41-yard field goal attempt. Phillip Newman has the leg for a 60-yarder into the wind, but has yet to be consistent.
On the positive side, Mark Jones has been dangerous as a punt returner. Rashad Baker may never drop a punt, but I've never seen anyone's feet move so fast without the body really going anywhere.
Chapter 4 - "Intangibles: Everything Else Y'all Aren't Doing"
This team has all the charisma of Tennessee's 1999 team. The only problem with this team is it's not as talented as the '99 Vols. They can't accidentally go 9-3 like that team did.
And, as far as the leadership, that remains to be seen. Clausen said he played a good game against Florida except his fumbles, which is sort of like saying I played a great round of golf except that 13 I got on the fourth hole (Clausen did, however, show much more maturity after the Rutgers game). This team felt sorry for itself after the Florida game, and the response was a 14-7 halftime deficit to Rutgers, which could just as easily have been 21-0.
Don't let me go any farther, as I'll temporarily exit stage left for Rashad Moore. After saying "Rutgers? Come on," and saying they just couldn't get up for the game, he went on to trash-talk the fans. The same fans who, with taxes and $40 tickets, pay for his education.
"We don't pay no attention to that 108,000," Moore said. "They're your friend one day and the enemy the next."
Moore went on - for some reason. He then, possibly after consulting with reality, gave a 100-percent accurate description of this team thus far in 2002.
"We're a pretty good team," Moore said. "That's our biggest problem; we think we're a pretty good team."
That's perfect. Maybe Rashad should come sit at my desk and do my job.
Of course, I would like to point out that I certainly couldn't do his job - or any other Vols', for that matter. I can't throw the pill crisply on a 30-yard out, and I couldn't tackle a Vanderbilt running back if he had cuffs on his feet. I'm merely the Pillsbury-Type Boy but, at the same time, I don't get a free ride to college to play football.
This team is talented enough to win out if it so desires. Don't laugh, it's possible. These athletes are here because they are the cream of the crop.
But, then again, if they stumble again, Arkansas will win Saturday. And then you can buy my book ... Sunday.