A lot of Tennessee fans tend to like conspiracy theories. Through their orange-tinted glasses, they always find a way to blame some evil outside force for any chink in the Volunteer armor.
So I could only listen and laugh as my friends and I rode around Knoxville on Saturday night and caught a segment of UT's radio call-in show. According to one caller, Florida quarterback Rex Grossman was continually applying a "slick substance" to his jersey. The evidence was gathered from this guy's 24th-row seat, as he sat in disgust and watched Grossman wipe at his jersey a few times.
Oh, the humanity! You knew there had to be a good reason for all those missed tackles by Tennessee on Saturday afternoon. Florida cheats!
I mean, that "slick substance" couldn't possibly have been rain, right? The clouds would never be so evil.
Ah yes, the ever-paranoid Tennessee fan.
Grossman no more had a "slick substance" on his jersey than Casey Clausen had some on his hands.
The game simply came down to one thing - when a football team doesn't play with discipline, it gets disciplined.
Saturday's punisher was the Florida Gators. The Vols were disciplined by their arch-rival in the form of a miserable, 17-point whipping.
Now, it wasn't a statistically dominating performance. The Vols won the time-of-possesion battle. They had only one less first down than the Gators. They had only 34 less total yards.
It would sound like a close game until you get to the little part about the fumbles. The Gators had a scant seven less of those.
They also had fewer missed tackles. They had fewer missed assignments. And when the Vols got a little confused at two crucial parts of the game, the Gators even had fewer players on the field.
It was a mess.
"You name it and we probably did it out there," UT running back Cedric Houston said. "We can't blame it on the rain, though - it was all mental. We've just gotta stop doing kiddie stuff out there."
Coach Phillip Fulmer called the final five minutes of the second quarter, during which Florida turned a scoreless tie into a 24-0 halftime lead, an "embarrassment" and apologized to Tennessee fans everywhere.
So what now? What happens to the team that was supposed to officially take the conference's top-dog status from Florida this year?
"Right now we're at a fork in the road," UT offensive tackle Will Ofenheusle said. "Our team can either come together and be disciplined and go for all our goals, or we can take the other fork in the road and do who knows what."
Well, actually we do know what. We know that a continued lack of discipline like Saturday's display might just lead the Vols straight down the road to Atlanta for a December date in the Georgia Dome.
Oh, there won't be any rematch with LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
I was thinking more like a grudge match with Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl. Clausen vs. Suggs II?
I can feel the excitement now.
We all know, though, that Tennessee is more than capable of remedying this situation.
"There's no doubt in my mind we have some good leaders on this team, and I know whatever we put our minds to we can do," UT defensive end Karlton Neal said.
Indeed, it would be absolutely foolish to count UT out of the conference - and maybe even more so the national - championship race.
With most of their tough conference games at home, Florida might not again lose two SEC games like they did after beating Tennessee in 1997. But ask Nebraska if a team has to go to their conference championship game to play for the national title.
If the Volunteers win out, there would be some solid victories during that stretch. Chief among them would be a Nov. 9 date with defending national champion and top-ranked Miami, a game that could very easily propel the Vols back into the BCS hunt.
"Maybe we'll look back on this January 4 or 5 and say this game was a blessing in disguise," Ofenheusle said. "If we can run the table in the regular season, I think we'll still be in the driver's seat."
That game with the Hurricanes, though - and really, this season - could start to get ugly without a change in the team's mindset.
"There's a little bit of an attitude that we think we're better than we are," Fulmer said. "We have a chance to be a good team, but we have to be a disciplined team."
It's as simple as that.
If it happens, you might just want to consider saying a little prayer this week for poor ol' Rutgers.
And if it doesn't? If it doesn't, you might just want to consider cooking up a new conspiracy for October.
Game slips, season still alive
Published: Tue Sep 24, 2002 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 04:30 p.m.