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'Sad, dark days for Rocky Topa as season draws to end

John Moorehouse • Nov 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

There are two ways to interpret the cause behind Tennessee’s staggering loss to Wyoming.

Option one is that the Volunteers’ players quit.

Option two is that the offense isn’t good enough to beat a team at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference.

Talk about picking your poison. Either way, it speaks volumes about the sorry state of the program.

The big winner on Saturday? How about Mike Hamilton, whose decision to make a coaching change was completely legitimized by the ugliest loss in Phillip Fulmer’s tenure as head coach. I certainly can’t think of a worse team to defeat Fulmer’s Vols, who bumbled through a laughably bad first half of football.

Remember what I wrote a few weeks ago, and let’s place it in current context. Whoever replaces Phillip Fulmer as coach has a near-Herculean task ahead of him.

He’ll inherit a team with exactly zero quarterbacks who’ve proven they can play in the Southeastern Conference, and a beleaguered offensive line that has regressed on a weekly basis despite significant returning experience. Tennessee’s wide receivers continue to overachieve as a group, and even though Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe and others are walking wounded, younger wideouts like Ahmad Paige can’t get a whiff of playing time.

Maybe that’s an indictment of the younger players on the team. It also could speak to failures by the coaching staff to evaluate talent properly.

Again, pick your poison.

The new coach also inherits a defense that must replace multiple standouts. Robert Ayers, Ellix Wilson, Demonte Bolden and Nevin McKenzie are seniors. Demetrice Morley and Brent Vinson are in the doghouse enough they might decide to give the NFL a try, and they’re athletic enough for pro teams to take a chance on them.

The new guy also gets to compete for recruits with Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Les Miles, who have strangleholds on recruiting within their respective states. He’ll also have to win over a fanbase in which a 10-win season is met with griping and disappointment.

Hey, good luck with that.

Maybe the Vols didn’t quit against Wyoming. Wes Brown, who made eight tackles on essentially one leg then broke down in tears in the postgame news conference, provides evidence that effort isn’t an issue.

So does the continued play of phenom Eric Berry, who deserves a look at quarterback. The Vols have an off week to work on the package, and Berry can’t be worse than what they’re getting out of the position right now.

Still, I can’t help but recall the fire and anger players showed this week as their beloved coach announced his departure. Maybe if they played with even half of that passion on Saturday, they wouldn’t have lost.

Just a thought.

In the mean time, these awful Vols will play out the string in a lost season. Vandy and Kentucky surely are licking their chops. If the Vols lose to both, it will be the first time that’s happened since 1964. If the Vols lose to either, it becomes the first eight-loss season in more than a century of football.

Sad, dark days for Rocky Top.

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