A word about losing streaks

As this week plays out, Tennessee fans will hear and read about the Vols’ seven-game losing streak to Alabama. It’s a familair theme in these down times for Vol Nation.

In fact, the Vols hold winning streaks against only two SEC rivals at the moment: two wins against Kentucky and one against South Carolina.

Here’s a rundown of the current losing streaks against 11 SEC schools. Somebody had to do it, so I did.

Florida: Losing streak 10 games. Last win was 2004, 30-28, in Knoxville when UT was ranked 13th and Florida 11th.

Alabama: Losing streak 7 games. Last win was 2006, 16-13, in Knoxville. Tennessee was No. 7; Alabama was unranked.

Auburn: Losing streak 6 games. Last win was 1999, 24-0, in Knoxville. Tennessee was No. 7; Auburn was unranked.

Georgia: Losing streak 5 games. Last win was 2009, 45-19, in Knoxville. Neither team was ranked.

LSU: Losing streak 4 games. Last win was 2005, 30-27 in OT, in Baton Rouge. Vols were No. 10, LSU No. 4.

Vanderbilt: Losing steak 2 games. Last win was 2011, 27-21 in OT, in Knoxville. Neither team was ranked.

Missouri: Losing streak 2 games. UT has never beaten Mizzou. The two had never played before the Tigers joined the SEC in 2012.

Ole Miss: Losing streak 1 game. Last win was 2010, 52-14, in Knoxville. Neither team was ranked.

Mississippi State: Losing streak 1 game. Last win was 2008, 34-3, in Knoxville. Neither team was ranked.

Arkansas: Losing streak 1 game. Last win was 2007, 34-13, in Knoxville. UT was No. 22; Arkansas was unranked.

Vols Homecoming: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Does it seem like Homecoming isn’t as big a deal as it once was back in the day? Perhaps that observation is merely relative to your humble correspondent’s aging. Maybe it never was that big a deal.
But Tennessee’s football history is chock full of interesting Homecoming history. Here, in observance of 2014 Homecoming, is a slice of it:

A bunch of GOOD things have happened to the Vols on Homecomings past. I picked a top five.

1. 1998. A 37-13 victory over UAB on Nov. 7 was rather humdrum. But circumstances beyond the borders of Neyland Stadium led to the Vols moving up in the next week’s AP poll from No. 2 to No. 1. It was nearly a short stay. The following week the Clint Stoerner miracle occurred and the Vols stayed No. 1 with a dramatic 28-24 win over Arkansas. In less than two months Tennessee would be crowned national champion.

2. 1990. The Vols hadn’t played Florida in five years and would not become designated SEC East rivals for two more years. In a clash of top-10 teams, it was a great night for Tennessee thanks to a 45-3 demolition of Steve Spurrier’s first Florida team.

3. 1951. Tennessee essentially won the national championship by beating Vanderbilt 35-27 before a homecoming crowd at Shields-Watkins Field. The Vols came into the game ranked No. 1 and stayed there thanks to the regular-season ending win over the Commodores. In those days, the polls closed before bowl season. The Vols were declared consensus national champions. That they lost to Maryland in the Sugar Bowl was irrelevant.

4. 1959. You’ve heard of “The Stop,” of course. Did you know it happened at Homecoming? The Vols upset No. 1 LSU 14-13 by stopping Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon’s two-point conversion run. Cannon still doesn’t see it that way. I’ve seen film. It’s hard to tell.

5. 1939. You’ve heard about Johnny Butler’s run, of course. Also Homecoming. The No. 5 Vols beat No. 8 Alabama 21-0. Butler’s weaving, 56-yard run was newsreel material, the equivalent of SportsCenter’s Top Plays today. Grantland Rice is said to have called it the greatest run he ever saw.

Here are five BAD ones, too.

1. 2013: No. 7 Auburn underscored the perils of scheduling SEC opponents on Homecoming. The Tigers ripped the Vols 55-23.

2. 2002: What was UT thinking scheduling Miami for Homecoming? The U just happened to be ranked No. 1 and crushed the Vols 26-3.

3. 1983: Riding a six-game win streak that included a 41-34 upset of Alabama at Legion Field, the Vols laid a Homecoming egg, losing to Ole Miss, 13-10.

4. 1979: “What are Rutgers?” Only the oldtimers get the significance of that question. If you don’t know, ask your dad. Anyway, Rutgers showed the Vols what they were with a 13-7 upset.

5. 1973: Georgia won a 35-31 thriller, an upset of the 11th-ranked Vols, that left UT fans disenchanted with Bill Battle in his fourth season. He would last three more but it was downhill.

The UGLY

2008. Wyoming 13-7. One of the ugliest days ever in Neyland Stadium. The shocking loss came days after UT announced Phillip Fulmer was out, effective at the end of the season.

Finally, here are a few Homecoming leftovers:
(UT’s media guide designates Homecoming games only as far back as 1919)

1945, 1951: The latest Homecoming games, both on Dec. 1 against Vanderbilt.
1958. Vols upset No. 7 Ole Miss 18-16, one week after a stunning loss to Chattanooga.
2000, 2006: The earliest Homecoming games, both on Sept. 23.
1994. Peyton Manning’s first career start, a 10-9 win over Washington State.
1997. Last time UT beat a ranked opponent on Homecoming, 44-20 over No. 24 Southern Miss.
1999. Disaster averted. UT rallied to beat Memphis 17-16.
2000. A UT scoring record, 70-3 over Louisiana-Monroe.
2007. Last time UT was ranked on Homecoming. The No. 24 Vols beat ULL 59-7.
2012. A 55-48 win over Troy set a combined scoring record (103 points) for Neyland Stadium … and produced a combined 1,439 yards.

10 Names to get you ready for Florida

It’s 3:30 Friday afternoon. In 24 hours Tennessee fans will be celebrating the end of Florida’s nine-year domination — or crying in their beer again. To kill a few minutes, here are 10 names worth remembering from previous Tennessee-Florida battles:

1. Doug Dickey: The 1950s Florida quarterback resurrected Tennessee’s program as coach from 1964-69. But, man, what an exit. Dickey left UT to coach at his alma mater immediately after the 1969 Gator Bowl — in which the SEC champ Vols were upset by Florida 14-13. Even when he came back to be Tennessee’s athletic director in 1985, some folks never forgave him.
2. Kelsey Finch: Dickey was still Florida’s coach in 1977 when the Gators beat the Vols 27-17 in Gainesville. But Finch is the guy who went into the history book. He took a handoff at the UT 1 and raced 99 yards for a touchdown, the longest rushing attempt in UT history. There has been only one other 99-yard touchdown in SEC history.
3. Dale Carter: When the Gators and new coach Steve Spurrier came to Neyland Stadium in 1990, the teams had not met in five years. The Vols emerged from a tense first half with a 7-3 lead. Carter, an All-America defensive back, took the second-half kickoff and weaved 91 yards for a touchdown. It blew the game open. Tennessee won 45-3.
4. Steve Spurrier: The Head Ball Coach became the man UT fans loved to hate in his run from 1990-2001. Spurrier was 9-4 against Tennessee. His teams knocked the Vols out of five SEC Championship Game appearances (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1999). At least the UT got the last laugh with a monumental upset in 2001, after which Spurrier left for an ill-fated turn with the Washington Redskins.
5. Al Wilson: There were so many heroes (and goats: Collins Cooper) in UT’s 1998 win, 20-17 in overtime. But none changed the game over four quarters like Wilson, the linebacker who forced three Florida fumbles.
6. Alex Brown: Brown went Wilson one better in 1999. Rarely has a defensive player affected the outcome as Florida’s defensive end did. Brown recorded five sacks and intercepted a pass in a 23-21 Gator win in The Swamp. Tennessee hasn’t blocked him yet.
7. Jabar Gaffney: Did he catch it or didn’t he? Roughly 105,000 UT fans in Neyland Stadium on Sept. 16, 2000, say no. But the head official said yes. UT was clinging to a 23-20 lead when Jesse Palmer hit Gaffney just across the goal line with a second-and-goal pass from the 3 with 14 seconds to play. Gaffney had possession for an instand then dropped the ball. But he had it long enough for a 27-23 Florida win in the official’s eyes. Even if the pass were ruled incomplete, Florida still had time to run at least one more play.
8. Buck Fitzgerald: As was the case in 1998, there were multiple heroes from Tennessee’s stunning 32-30 win in The Swamp in 2001. Travis Stephens was the MVP but it was Fitzgerald, primarily a special-teams contributor, who knocked down Florida’s two-point conversion pass with 1:10 to play. That saved the Vols from going to overtime and they recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock to claim the SEC East title.
9. James Wilhoit: Few players have rocketed from goat to hero like Wilhoit did in 2004. After the Vols scored with 3:25 to play, he flubbed an extra-point kick that left Florida up 28-27. But Wilhoit more than atoned for his monumental mistake by kicking a 50-yard field goal with six seconds on the clock to deliver a 30-28 win. The Vols haven’t beaten Florida since.
10. Tim Tebow: Did you think we could get through this exercise without mentioning him? A situational sub as a freshman in 2006, Tebow bulled his way to convert a critical fourth down conversion to set up Florida’s game-winning touchdown in a 21-10 squeaker. The next three years he helped the Gators extend their winning streak to five seasons, including one 59-20 rout.

Points, rushes, yardage galore

3 things to ponder as another college football Saturday (Sept. 27) arrives:

1, The weekend is off to a gonzo start, thanks to a marquee game Thursday night. Well, it was a game for a little while. UCLA eventually blew out host Arizona State 62-27 in a match of top-15 teams. This show of force by the Bruins was somewhat unexpected. It comes one week after a 20-17 squeaker over Texas and two weeks after a 42-35 scare from Memphis. I repeat, Memphis.

2, I still can’t get over the most amazing stat from last week — Wisconsin’s 644 rushing yards against Bowling Green. Yes, it was only Bowling Green, but 644 yards against Wisconsin-Whitewater’s scout team would be impressive. The 644 is a modern-day (from 1946) Big Ten record. The Badgers rushed 60 times and threw 18 passes. This, one game after rushing for 167 against Western Illinois.

The SEC single-game rushing yardage record is 748 by Alabama in 1973, against Virginia Tech. Tennessee’s single-game record is 513 against Washington & Lee in 1951. That doesn’t rank among the top 10 in the SEC annals.

3, The offensive numbers in the SEC are crazy. Eight teams are averaging at least 40 points a game, led by Texas A&M’s 55.2. Even Florida’s maligned offense is in the act at 40.7. Twelve teams are averaging at least 36 points a game. True, it’s only September and non-conference patsies inflate the scores. Still, Texas A&M has scored 52 on South Carolina, South Carolina beat Georgia 38-35 in a shootout and Alabama hung 42 on Florida. Tennessee is still waiting to get in the act. The Vols are averaging 27.3 points, which is ahead of only Vandy at 19.5.

As recently as 2011 Arkansas led the league in scoring at 36.8. That would tie for 10th place at the moment. From 2002-2006, the leader ranged between 32.1 and 34.0.

Total offense numbers, likewise, have gone through the roof in a league that rose to the top of the heap with superior defenses. Alabama is cranking out 587.5 yards a game, second only to Texas A&M’s 612.5. A mere three years ago, Arkansas led the league at 438 yards. From 2002-2006, the lead varied in a range of 406 to 433.

We’ll revisit the numbers in another month.

Vol football: mapping the road trips

Content Warning!! This blog post is more about geography than football. I’m a map freak, a geography geek. Tennessee football going to Oklahoma for the first time was all the impetus I needed to delve into tracing the Vols’ football imprint on a U.S. map. Oklahoma, it turns out, is the 24th state in which the Vols have played a game. Aside from Dallas, in northern Texas, it’s also the first time the Vols have appeared anywhere on the Great Plains.

The first out-of-state road trip was way back in 1893, to North Carolina. In a span of five days, UT played Wake Forest, Trinity (Duke) and UNC.

Without further adieu, here’s a list of states — and The District of Columbia — where Tennessee football has visited.

Massachusetts: Four visits to Boston College, none colder than Halloween 1987.
New Hampshire: Dartmouth, in 1921. Surprised about that one.
New York: Syracuse, Army, Fordham, NYU (1931 in Yankee Stadium).
Maryland: The Vols are unscored upon in Maryland, thanks to a 16-0 win in College Park in 1957.
D.C.: George Washington, 1933. (This was the second-biggest surprise behind Dartmouth.)
Virginia: Not since 1929 in Roanoke.
North Carolina: Regular trips to Duke and Chapel Hill in the first half of the 20th Century. None since 1961.
South Carolina: Four pre-Neyland visits to Clemson. These days, every even-numbered season since 1992 means Columbia.
Georgia: Atlanta used to be a regular port of call. Athens still is. There was a 1912 appearance in Macon.
Alabama: Obviously. Anyone miss Legion Field? I didn’t think so.
Florida: The Vols have had better luck in 17 bowl games than in The Swamp.
Mississippi: Starkville, Oxford and, in days of yore, Jackson.
Kentucky: Lot of cold November Saturdays in Lexington. The ’91 season opened with a sultry Thursday-night win at Louisville.
Arkansas: The Vols are 3-0 in Little Rock, but only 2-3 in Fayetteville.
Louisiana: Seven Sugar Bowls and LSU.
Texas: Ten bowl games, but only two regular-season visits — Houston in 1953 and Rice in 1968. Our grandchildren might live to see a trip to College Station.
California: Strictly the LA area until a 2007 visit to Berkeley, where there were naked men in trees outside the stadium. For my money, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is the best setting for a game.
Hawaii: On Dec. 6, 1975, a season-ending 28-6 victory for a 7-5 record in the days when there was no Advocare V100 Texas Bowl.
Arizona: Back-to-back Fiesta Bowls, one of them more memorable than the other.
Indiana: Four trips to South Bend. That’s it.
Missouri: It took Mizzou joining the SEC to break the ice in 2013.
Oregon: Another 2013 breakthrough.
Oklahoma: Sept. 13, 2014.

I was surprised to find UT had never played in Ohio, Pennsylvania or West Virginia. We could have added Wyoming and New Mexico to the list but UT bought out of return trips. Wyoming’s “home game” was played at LP Field in Nashville. New Mexico’s never was.

That is all. Geography class dismissed.

How have Vols fared against best non-SEC teams? Look here

With Oklahoma in the Vols’ sights, I wrote a column about Tennessee’s history with college football’s “in crowd,” the most elite programs.

Highlights:

Last time UT beat a ranked non-conference opponent was No. 18 Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl after the 2007 season.

Last time UT beat a top-10 non-conference opponent was No. 9 Cal to open the 2006 season in Knoxville. Cal was overrated, but, hey, they were top 10 at the time.

Non-conference headline wins in the post-Phillip Fulmer era: North Carolina State in 2012 and Cincinnati in 2011. Not much sizzle there.

Here is UT’s results in the past 20 seasons against non-conference teams from the other four Power Five conferences — ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12 — plus the now defunct Big East. (Rankings, if ranked).

2013: L 59-14 at Oregon (2)
2012: W NC State 35-21
2011: W Cincinnati 45-23.
2010: L Oregon (7) 48-13; L North Carolina 30-27.
2009: L UCLA 19-15; L Virginia Tech (12) 37-14.
2008: L at UCLA 27-24.
2007: L at California (12) 45-31; W Wisconsin (18) 21-17.
2006: W California (9) 35-18; L Penn State 20-10
2005: L at Notre Dame (8) 41-21.
2004: L Notre Dame 17-13; W Texas A&M (22) 38-7.
2003: W Duke 23-6; W at Miami (6) 10-6; L Clemson 27-14.
2002: W Rutgers 35-14; L Miami (1) 26-3; L Maryland (20), 30-3.
2001: W Syracuse 33-9; W at Notre Dame 28-18; W Michigan (17) 45-17.
2000: L Kansas State (11) 35-21.
1999: W Notre Dame (24) 38-14; L Nebraska (3) 31-21.
1998: W at Syracuse (17) 34-33; W Florida State (2) 23-16.
1997: W Texas Tech 52-17; W UCLA 30-24; L Nebraska (2) 42-17.
1996: W UCLA 35-20; W Northwestern (11) 48-28.
1995: W Oklahoma State 31-0; W Ohio State (4) 20-14.
1994: L at UCLA (14) 25-23; W Washington State (17) 10-9; W Virginia Tech (17) 45-23.

Butch Jones’ son Alex providing kicks for dad

Butch Jones, borrowing a page from Bruce Pearl, got a tad emotional talking about his son Monday at the Knoxville Quarterback Club. (Pearl was prone to tears when speaking of his son Steven Pearl, a walk-on who carved a niche role in Pearl’s Tennessee teams.)

Jones was delivering a state of the program address Monday when he spotted Zac Jancek in the crowd and asked, “What are you doing here?” Jancek, son of Jones’ defensive coordinator, John Jancek, was there to receive an award for outstanding play as Catholic High’s quarterback. That got Jones off on a personal tangent about his son, Alex. Alex Jones, it turns out, has become the kicker at Catholic after previously giving up football due to a congenital heart issue.

“Everywhere we’ve been,” Butch Jones said, “Alex has been the best athlete. Varsity basketball, a great football player.”

When the Jones family moved to Knoxville last year from Cincinnati, Alex didn’t play at Catholic due to concerns about his having a bicuspid aortic valve. “So athletics was taken from him,” Jones said. “It was devastating.”
Alex, according to Jones, went to games and supported the team, including his friend Zac Jancek. The Jones and Jancek families had spent the previous three years together in Cincinnati.

Jones: “I told him, ‘you need to kick.’ He thought he was too cool to be the kicker.”

After the 2013 season, Alex reconsidered and decided to take dad’s advice. He attended camps and saught instruction during the summer. Now a senior, he is Catholic’s kicker. Jones said Friday night while the Vols were at a hotel preparing for Saturday’s game against Arkansas State, his phone starting beeping with texts from his wife Barbara. She was providing updates from the Catholic game against CAK.

“For the first time I had the gut feeling of a father,”Jones said. “For once in my life I got to feel what it is to be the father of a son who’s competing on game day. It was a pretty neat experience.”

dale ellis

Dale Ellis finishes his speech

When Dale Ellis was on the court at Thompson-Boling Arena last March to see his jersey raised to the rafters, he got cut off without finishing what he had to say. There was a game to tip off.

“I’d wake up every morning for about two months after that, and think about what I could have said, who I could have acknowledged,” Ellis said Wednesday in Greeneville, where he and ex-Vols Reggie Johnson, Damon Johnson and Skylar McBee were working a clinic for the Boys and Girls Club.

So I gave Ellis a chance to finish his acknowledgements. One of the first people he mentioned was Ed Balloff, the friend of the program who was buried Tuesday at age 94.

Another was Dr. Robert Overholt. Said Ellis, “I’ve had an opportunity to travel the world through the game of basketball. That’s always been my life’s dream. I met a lot of beautiful people. None were more beautiful than Dr. Robert Overholt. I grew up without a father and I always looked at him as somewhat of a father figure to me.”

And Don DeVoe, his coach.

“He prepared me for that next level,” Ellis said. “It wasn’t like you could take a day off with Don. If you scored 30 points last night, he wanted to know what had tonight. It didn’t matter what you did on a test last week, he wanted to know what you’re gonna do this week in school. He was teaching me how to be a professional, off and on the floor.”

The UT fans: “You guys pushed me to come with it every single day. I want to thank you, too.”

Perhaps most of all, his Tennessee teammates.

Wednesday he mentioned Reggie Johnson, Michael Brooks, Gary Carter, Howard Wood and others. “I would take something from their game and I brought it to my game. It’s an individual honor. But that ’14’ — I took my twin brother’s number to honor him. We went to different schools. The ‘1979-83′ — that repesents my teammates. That’s a team honor.”

Ed Balloff was a gentle friend of Vol basketball

Ed Balloff died Saturday at age 94. Mr. Balloff was many things in his long life: World War II veteran, Vanderbilt alum, attorney, clothing merchant, pillar of the community in Campbell County. He was also a consumate gentleman, one of the nicest human beings on the planet. If you ever met him, I’m not telling you anything you hadn’t already figured out. But he was also a diehard Tennessee basketball fan and played a unique role in some of the program’s best days.

I wasn’t in Knoxville yet so I don’t know how it came to be that “Mr. B” became John Ward’s driver on basketball road trips. But for years Ed Balloff drove John around the SEC and elsewhere so John could bring the game back home over the Vol Network radio waves. Ward, signing off, would refer to Mr. Balloff as ‘director of transportation’ or something like that.

From talking to Ed and others, the road trips were meticuously planned and adhered to time-honored routines. When I’d show up at a gym in Starkville or Tuscaloosa, Ed would be in the media room, happy to chat. But during the games he would often disappear. He couldn’t stand the tension of a tight game in which the Vols might be in peril of defeat. A couple of years ago I asked him to confirm the story of a game in Memorial Coliseum in Lexington during the “Ernie & Bernie” years. He admitted, yes, he did retreat to the men’s restroom under the stands to suffer in solitude.

“True story,” Mr. Balloff said. “I’d hear the roar when Kentucky scored. So I turned on all the faucets and flushed all the toilets and went from one to the other doing that. Then it got very quiet. And I knew we won the game.”

That was the 90-88 overtime when in 1976 when Ernie Grunfeld scored 43 points and Bernard King made the game-winning shot virtually from the seat of his pants.

Mr. Balloff had a special relationship with Grunfeld. He told me when Grunfeld came on his recruiting visit from New York, coach Ray Mears asked Ed, who was Jewish, to take Grunfeld to lunch. Mr. Balloff and Grunfeld remained friends for life.

After John Ward called his last game in 1999, I didn’t see Mr. Balloff around very often. It was a treat when I did. He remained active until the end, practicing law in LaFollette. The world would be better off with more kind souls like Ed Balloff.

Vols’ Ferguson not dwelling on what might have been

Riley Ferguson talked with the media for the first time Friday as a Tennessee quarterback. After the opening day of spring practice, coach Butch Jones sent all four quarterback candidates — Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs, Nathan Peterman and Ferguson — to face the question-askers.

The obvious question for Ferguson was when and how did he suffer the stress fracture in his right leg that denied him a golden opportunity to play in 2013 and ultimately forced a redshirt. To rewind the timeline, Peterman was lost to a hand injury at Florida on Sept. 21 and Worley to a thumb injury at Alabama on Oct. 26. The tea leaves seemed to indicate that by late October Ferguson was ahead of Dobbs and would have succeeded Worley.

So when did the injury arise? “The week of the Alabama game, maybe the week before that,” Ferguson said.

How did it happen? “We do not know, really,” Ferguson said. “It might be from over-pressing when I’m dropping to throw. It got to the point where it was really sore. They took me to get an MRI and I had a stress fracture.”

So, given that Dobbs took over for Worley in the second half at Alabama and started the final four games, wasn’t that terrible timing for you? “I was thinking that at first,” Ferguson said. “But my family and everybody here, they were telling me things happen for a reason. Just move forward and try to get better.”

And so he did. “That was last year,” Ferguson said. “I’m focused on this year. I don’t really worry about if I’d have went in or wouldn’t have, or if was hurt or wasn’t hurt.”

Ferguson can’t wait to get in a game and put Jones’ offense to work. He embraces the tempo: “I love to line up and see a corner have to run all the way across the field just to match up with my receiver. And I can hike the ball before he’s over there and get it there quick.”

Jones liked what he saw from all four quarterbacks Friday, or so he said. As for Ferguson, “I liked his quarterback intangibles. He was extremely accurate with the football. He looked very confident and he made some big-time throws today.”