Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Labor Day Blast

What a fantastic weekend!

Obviously, Saturday was the highlight, with the euphoria from the Vols' spanking of the pretenders from the West Coast casting everything this week in a different light. The VOLConWife and I walked to the stadium in time to catch the Vol Walk. Due to some buses being in the way, we were able to stand between two of them and greet every player and coach as they made their way into Neyland Stadium. I should have pictures by the end of the day. It was the most fun I have had at a Vol Walk ever.

We were also able to mingle with the political heavyweights before the game. "Big" Jim Bryson had his tailgate running at full steam, as did Bob Corker. Jim provided the VOLConWife and I with some much needed pizza and Coke, which was greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, Bob had some major guests at his tailgate - Lady Vols Coach Pat Summit and Vols Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl. Rep. Stacey Campfield and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam were also spotted at Corker's tailgate tent.

For Jim, this was a good event to help raise his name ID, particularly because the Bredesen campaign team must be suffering from sympathy tick bite symptoms given their lack of presence at UT Saturday. Bob Corker, in the meantime, already has that "rock star" appeal. He appeared to be mobbed from the time of his arrival until I traveled into Neyland.

The VOLConWife and I really enjoyed the game - even if we were in the second-to-the-top-row in the southwest corner of the stadium (Section PP). As usual (and I have sat in every section of Neyland Stadium save the North End Zone in the Upper Deck), the breeze made these seats extremely comfortable, and you can tell what is going on from the "nosebleeds" quite well.

With that said, here are a few of my grades for the game:

Quarterback - B+
Erik Ainge played quite well. He made several good decisions within Coach Cut's offense. However, the interception was his fault, and he needs to gain more confidence in his cannon arm so that he can zip the ball to his receivers, especially on routes in the flat. He throws several more INTs against an SEC defense. Probably his best pass was his read on Swain's TD. Crompton flattening the Cal safety on the QB draw in the 4th quarter was a sign of things to come from him.

Running Backs - A-
This grade is an "A+" if you take out David Yancey's ill-fated run. Of course, one can fault the coaching logic of putting the 4th stringer (Yancey) in before the 3rd stringer (Coker). Foster ran with power, Coker ran with speed, and Montario Hardesty showed plenty of both. These three harken back to the days of Garner, Stewart, and Hayden in the early 1990s.

Wide Receivers - A
Routes were crisper. No real drops (although the TEs had one or two). Robert Meachem looked like no one on Cal's defense could bring him down.

Offensive Line - A+
When your starting QB doesn't hit the ground once and your RBs gain over 200 yards rushing, you can't ask for much more from this unit.

Defensive Line - B+
The front four did well in stopping the run, but UT had trouble pressuring the QB without sending blitzers. This unit will look better if Demonte Bolden and Dan Williams can provide depth. Xavier Mitchell had his best game at DE.

Linebackers - A+++
Chavis may have been right in saying that his unproven linebacking corps was better than his experienced starters from last year. Mayo was awarded national defensive player of the week, Karl led the team in tackles, and Mitchell played his best game ever for Tennessee.

Secondary - A-
Their only markdown here was for a few dropped INTs, but this group has the potential to be one of the best defensive secondaries ever for Tennessee. Morley seemed to be everywhere.

Special Teams - A
Britton Colquitt's 59-yard punt that turned into a better spiral than Casey Clausen ever threw was a thing of beauty. Perhaps more important was the lack of mistakes in receiving punts. Robert Ayers' effort on the opening kickoff - which left Cal's starting TE unconscious - was cited by Cal Coach Tedford as significant in setting the tone for the game.

Coaching - A-
My only beef is taking the foot off of the accelerator too early. Yancey's fumble in the 3rd quarter killed UT's momentum. Besides that, Fulmer, Cutcliffe, Chavis, Taylor, and the rest of the staff completely transformed last year's debacle into a thing of beauty.

Pride of the Southland - F
What can I say - when you have 10,000+ fans waiting on you after they were just pumped up by the Vol Walk, you don't show up 24 minutes late. Some were wondering if they had forgotten where the stadium was. Then the halftime alma mater was so quiet that no one could hear it. Much room for improvement.

Concessions - A-
I only bought one Coke (which was probably a contributing factor to my lack of voice Sunday and Monday), but it didn't seem that they ran out of anything (as has happened in the recent past). One small markdown due to a few cost increases, though.

Crowd - A-
In terms of noise and being into the game, this crowd was the best since the national title year of 1998. Two markdowns, though, for 1) the "overrrated" chant and 2) the wave. Guys, you don't chant "overrated" because it demeans your own team. It amounts to, "you guys are so bad that even we beat you." It's a slap at your own team. As for the wave, leave it to sports that can be boring. Soccer, NASCAR (at times), cricket - those sports NEED the wave. Football doesn't.

Officiating - D
It's a good thing that Cal wasn't even in UT's class on the field, because this officiating crew could have tipped the scales if the game had been close. Several dubious pass interference calls against UT, as well as several missed personal fouls against Cal.

"The Strip" After the Game - B-
It's been a while since I made the trip down to Cumberland after a game. It really is sanitized now. Tame. Honestly, it was a bit of a letdown. If it wasn't for the outstanding wings that we took home from Wing Shack, it would have been a total bust.

Sunday brought Boomsday, a Huddleston family tradition since a few days after our wedding day in 2002. We thoroughly enjoyed the best fireworks show in the nation, and we had some excellent conversation with our friends, Ben and Jennifer Farmer, whom we just happened to meet up with in the sea of humanity (crowd estimates were 355,000).

Monday was a visit to the 1st District, although it was more of a feast than anything. The rain cancelled the outdoor festivities, but we drowned our longing for activity in BBQ, conversation, and tennis.

A great weekend - and football season has just begun...

An excellent review my friend...glad to know the holiday went well. Here's to the same success this coming weekend.
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