It was supposed to be one of those “sure-win” games when fans looked at the football schedule before the season.
Whether the Vols were supposed to win four games or shock the experts and win seven or even eight games, the Saturday contest with UAB was chalked up as a victory.
However, UAB had other ideas, outplaying Tennessee from the second quarter on, before the Vols found a way to escape with a three-point win in double overtime.
After playing two top-10 teams in the previous two weeks, UT expected to finally get a break against the Blazers. Instead, the Vols had to face missed field goals just to play overtime.
While the stats clearly show the Vols' inability to move the chains on third downs, the last play of regulation served as a visual reminder of where the Vols are offensively.
With only four seconds left in regulation, the Vols tried to attempt a Hail Mary pass with the hopes that one of the tall freshman receivers would return the favor to the Blazers after they defeated Troy the week before on a last-second Hail Mary pass.
Instead, playing prevent defense and rushing only four defenders, UAB sacked UT quarterback Matt Simms before he could even launch a prayer.
In their defense, the Vols were playing with as many as nine would-be starters out, including two on the offensive line. The Vols started a senior, two sophomores and two freshmen up front and rotated another freshman with the senior guard for much of the game.
With four difficult SEC games in the next month, three of which are on the road, the Vols needed a win in the worst way against a 1-2 Conference USA team that, in all reality, should have been 0-3 when it traveled to Neyland Stadium Saturday.
The Vols won in the worst way, but at the end of the day, they won and that's what matters most, fans. Just ask Texas or Georgia fans, whose teams lost to UCLA and Mississippi State, respectively, on Saturday.
With one-third of the college football season complete, the Vols are exactly where most predicted them to be: 2-2.
The questions heading into the season are still there. Coach Derek Dooley keeps repeating that the same problems he had after the first week of spring practice are the same problems that are plaguing the Vols now.
The offensive line hasn't developed as fast as it had hoped to. The defensive line hasn't won many one-on-one match-ups to pressure the quarterback, forcing defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to blitz more, which puts more pressure on the secondary to defend receivers in the passing game.
Many fans entered this season cautiously optimistic. A .500 record seemed liked a good benchmark and while it still is, injuries have really hurt this team early in the year. While the win-loss record probably wouldn't be any different if receiver Gerald Jones or defensive tackle Marlon Walls had played against Oregon and Florida, the perception of the team might be different.
Regardless of how the Vols looked against UT-Martin, Oregon, Florida and UAB, the fate of the Vols' season will be decided in October.
The Vols travel to Baton Rouge, La., Saturday to play 12th-ranked LSU. The Tigers are undefeated, but have their own share of offensive woes, especially at the quarterback position.
Following LSU, UT will travel to Athens to play Georgia. Georgia might be in a worse position than Tennessee. Mark Richt's job status is questionable at best, as the Bulldogs are 1-3 and 0-3 in the SEC. If the Vols are to pull off an upset during the month, the Oct. 9 game is their best bet.
After a bye week, the Vols return for their only home game in October. However, it will be against top-ranked Alabama. The Crimson Tide are arguably the best team in college football this year again, after winning the BCS National Championship a year ago. With Mark Ingram back and healthy, the Tide’s offense is rolling, while the defense is getting better each week.
After the Alabama game, the Vols will travel to South Carolina to play the Gamecocks. After the Halloween beatdown the Vols gave Steve Spurrier last year, the Ole Ball Coach will be looking for payback with the most talented team he has fielded in Columbia.
Most expect the Vols to go winless in October, and if they play the way they did Saturday, the games could get ugly.
But expect Dooley’s team to put up a fight against the team he coached at for five seasons under Nick Saban, as well as against the school his dad, Vince Dooley, is a living legend at. Alabama has to lose sometime, and Dooley will have his team motivated against his former boss, and South Carolina … Well, it is South Carolina. Don't count the Vols out when they play in Columbia.