UT at Ole Miss: 10 points

1.) Managing Expectations: I didn’t expect Tennessee to beat Ole Miss. I said before the game that I would consider it a victory if the Vols stayed within 17 points and Justin Worley stayed healthy. Unfortunately, neither happened. There were some things that concerned me about the loss, even though I fully expected a lopsided win by Ole Miss, and I’ll explain those in more length further down. But one thing that leaves me scratching my head is the UT fans who are throwing in the towel on Butch Jones. So let’s repeat: Tennessee wasn’t expected to win this game. Tennessee wasn’t supposed to win this game. Tennessee shouldn’t have won this game. I know that’s obvious to most, but judging from Twitter tonight, not everyone got the memo. This was always going to be a loss. UT is an improving football team, but not good enough to go on the road and upset the nation’s No. 3 team — a team that, in my opinion (and I said this before tonight) is the best team in America right now.

2.) Where does OL fault lie? There is a growing rift within the Tennessee fan base over whether the Vols’ offensive line should be criticized. And it goes all the way to the top, as Jones implied this week that UT fans should lay off the line. But after UT gave up seven sacks to Ole Miss tonight and finished with negative yards on the ground, we’ve once again reconfirmed what we’ve known for a few weeks: This is the worst offensive line in recent UT history. That much isn’t debatable. What is debatable is where the fault lies. Some blame youth . . . and, make no mistake, this is also the youngest offensive line in recent UT history. Clearly, youth plays a role. But I can’t be honest and say that I don’t have concerns about the coaching at that position. When Jones fired Sam Pittman (who is now at Arkansas, coaching an offensive line that is averaging over 300 yards per game on the ground) to make room for his own hire, I felt it was a mistake. Now I’m convinced it was a mistake. It isn’t fair to criticize Don Mahoney, the offensive line coach, for a completely green and inexperienced OL. But when you throw in the fact that last year’s line, with NFL-caliber talent, turned in an underwhelming performance, I think there’s cause for concern. And let’s point out the obvious: we’re more than halfway through the season. If UT’s offensive line woes are due only to inexperience, the line should be getting better. It isn’t. Tennessee has now allowed 19 sacks in its last three games. Nineteen!

3.) Regressing Worley: UT quarterback Justin Worley impressed me with his toughness at Oklahoma. Running for his life with a porous offensive line in front of him, Worley made a couple of crucial mistakes but nonetheless played pretty well. When he followed that up with a really good performance at Georgia, I was sold on his newfound abilities. It had been obvious after the Utah State game that 2014 Worley was improved over 2013 Worley. That was even more obvious after the Arkansas State game. By the end of the Georgia game — which I still maintain Tennessee would have won if Worley hadn’t been injured and missed most of the third quarter — Worley was looking like the SEC’s most improved player. Some red flags started to pop up during the Florida game. Worley did not play well at all. He didn’t look much better against Chattanooga, though it’s hard to take too much away from what was essentially a glorified scrimmage. Tonight, though, Worley had one of the worst games of his life. The offensive line shoulders plenty of burden for UT’s offensive woes against the Rebels, but Worley has more than enough blame to share as well. He repeatedly made bad decisions, made poor throws, and just didn’t look at all comfortable. My biggest concern coming into the game was that Worley would be injured and not be able to finish the season. Ironically, by midway through the third quarter, I was more than ready for Jones to burn Josh Dobbs’ redshirt and insert the sophomore into the game.

4.) Still the best option: Was anyone really surprised that Nathan Peterman fumbled on his second play in the game? I mean, really? I hate it for Peterman, I really do. But he just doesn’t have it. I was still hopeful after a complete debacle at Florida last season. But his third quarter showing at Georgia last month pretty much had be convinced that he isn’t an SEC-level quarterback. I don’t know what “it” is, but Peterman doesn’t have “it.” If the coaches believe that Dobbs isn’t a better option than Worley — which they must believe if they’re going to redshirt him — I will defer to their judgment. As a fan, there’s no way I could possibly be in a better position to judge than they are. So, apparently, Worley — despite his regression — is still Tennessee’s best option. Which means if the Vols are to return to SEC prominence, the quarterback who will lead them there isn’t yet on campus. And that’s sorta depressing, when you think about it.

5.) Bowl eligibility a stretch: After the Utah State game, I said that Justin Worley was much improved, but I still didn’t think he was a good enough quarterback to win SEC games. After the Georgia game, I had completely changed my mind. I said UT would beat a team it wasn’t supposed to beat at some point this season, and Worley would be a major reason why. After the Florida and Ole Miss games, I’m concerned about Tennessee winning any of the remaining games on their schedule, given the way Worley is struggling. If you’re keeping count, you know the magic number is two for Tennessee. That’s all the Vols can lose and still hope for a bowl game. With a visit from Alabama on tap for next Saturday night, that magic number is probably about to become one. There’s very little margin for error. And Missouri — which just drubbed Florida — is still on the schedule, as is a much improved Kentucky team (and South Carolina).

6.) Really, Bajakian? I’ve tried to avoid jumping on the criticism band wagon of Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, but let’s far it: there’s a reason Tennessee fans have been so critical of his play calling. We saw two perfect examples tonight. One was the first drive of the second half. Tennessee had moved inside Ole Miss’s 30-yard-line and had a second down play. Bajakian called a double-reverse trick play, which resulted in a loss of 10 yards and eventually forced a punt. It was a MAC-level play call against the SEC’s best defense. You try a high-risk trick play when you have nothing to lose and need a spark. Not when you’re in position to score. A double-reverse is certainly a high-risk play. A field goal there would’ve made it a one-possession game at 14-6. Late in the game, with Tennessee facing fourth and about a foot at the Ole Miss 41, Bajakian calls a handoff . . . on a night when the Vols had negative yards in the rushing column. With a sizable QB like Peterman under center, why wouldn’t you try a quarterback sneak? The play calling has been mystical at times this season, especially inside the 20-yard-line.

7.) Butch’s stubbornness a problem? Let me make one thing clear: I’m still completely in Butch Jones’ corner. Just about everything he has done with this program has been the right thing. He’s reenergized the fan base (though he’s gonna have to win soon to keep that energy level up), he’s reversed recent trends on the recruiting trail, he’s sold the program to former players and area high school coaches — two groups completely alienated by Derek Dooley. But a lot of UT fans feel the offense is being hamstrung by Mahoney and Bajakian. If that is, in fact, true, and Tennessee will only take the next step with some shuffling on the staff, will Butch Jones be willing to make that move? Mahoney was with him as offensive line coach the entire time he was at Central Michigan and the entire time he was at Cincinnati. The same is true for Bajakian (as offensive coordinator). Clearly, they’re more than just assistants. They’re friends and confidants. Will Jones be willing to pull the trigger on coaching changes even if it’s obvious that they’re needed? Or will he prove loyal to a fault, very similar to Phillip Fulmer? Jones has shown he is pretty stubborn, so that has to be concerning if you’re in the camp who feel that some staff changes might be necessary.

8.) Defense not at fault. Tennessee’s defense played exceptionally well in the first half of the game. Two consecutive busts by true freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley led to Ole Miss’s first touchdown, but the second touchdown was mostly on the offense, which gave the Rebels a short field to work with off of a turnover. Coming into the game, I said that Tennessee’s defense would keep the game close and respectable, unless offense and special teams gave the Rebels a short field. The offense (three turnovers) and special teams (one turnover) gave Ole Miss a short field, and it did get ugly. (By the way, don’t fault Evan Berry too much for his fumbled kickoff. It was a disastrous play, but those things happen — especially to freshmen who are brand new to the position. Berry has shown flashes of being a very good return man in just two games at the position.) By the fourth quarter, the defense was simply gassed. The young contributors on the defense continue to be super impressive. Derek Barnett finished with four tackles for loss and two sacks . . . and he’s a true freshman. The incoming recruiting class might be, on paper, the best defensive line recruiting class in recent Tennessee history. Add those guys to John Jancek’s defense and the Vols could be an absolute force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the football in this league. Let’s not forget that Cam Sutton and Jalon Reeves-Maybin are just sophomores. By 2015, this defense is going to be very good. By 2016 that unit could be one of the best defenses the SEC has seen in a while.

9.) A little quit, maybe? One thing I’ve much admired about the Butch Jones brand of football, despite his 8-11 record at Tennessee, is that his teams don’t have an ounce of quit in them. That was true last season, even though UT’s lack of talent was often exposed in a big way. That has especially been true this season. Tennessee didn’t give up at Oklahoma; they didn’t give up when it appeared Georgia had busted the game wide open down in Athens. They fight until the final second has ticked off the clock. For the first time in the Butch Jones era, I saw a Tennessee team that appeared to quit a little bit tonight. What does that mean? Maybe a little; maybe a lot. Only time will tell.

10.) RUTS, Hugh Freeze. I’m not a fan of running up the score. Although it’s a completely different level, that’s one reason I’m a big fan of Tony Lambert’s brand of football at Oneida High School. No one pulls his starters quicker once the game is in hand than Lambert does. I don’t think you prove anything by rubbing salt in the wound. Tonight, when Ole Miss picked up a first down inside the 10-yard-line with under 1:30 to play, Hugh Freeze could have easily taken a couple of knees and ended the game at 27-3. With that said, do I blame Freeze? I’m not sure. It wasn’t like he was out there throwing passes. He was running the play clock down, then running the football. Tennessee still has a responsibility to tackle the ballcarrier. But one thing I’m absolutely sure of: ESPN’s Brad Nessler — who I’m a big fan of — sounded pretty dumb with his assessment of the situation. Before Ole Miss’s final scoring play, Nessler said, “Ole Miss doesn’t want to score again.” Then, after the touchdown run, he said, “Look at him — he didn’t want that to happen.” Seriously? Brad, really? Didn’t want it to happen? Fault him for doing it, or don’t; I’m kinda “meh” either way. But I’m pretty sure that if Hugh Freeze didn’t want to score again, he’s heard of the victory formation.

Shepard Smith blasts media on Ebola

One of the reasons I like Shep Smith is because he is one of the few cable news personalities who isn’t so caught up in Republican-vs.-Democrat politics that he loses sight of right-vs.-wrong politics. Today, he blasted the news media for the Ebola hyperbole:

He explained: “We do not have an outbreak of Ebola in the United States. Nowhere. We do have two healthcare workers who contracted the disease from a dying man. They are isolated. There is no information to suggest that the virus has spread to anyone in the general population in America. Not one person in the general population in the United States.”

The Fox News host emphasized that political gamesmanship is skewing media coverage. “With midterm elections coming, the party in charge needs to appear to be effectively leading. The party out of power needs to show that there is a lack of leadership,” said Smith.

Where this rainy October stacks up

Halfway through the month of October, we’ve had more days with measurable rain (10) than without (5). So where does this rainy October stack up historically?

According to the National Weather Service’s data, a total of 5.11 inches of rain have been recorded in Oneida. (As I have stated in the past, I always consider the Oneida weather station’s precipitation numbers suspect. By comparison, Crossville has recorded 7.07 inches of rain at the airport and 8.53 inches at the Expo Center.)

But using the Oneida number, this already ranks as the second-wettest October in the 21st Century. 2009 featured the wettest October, at 7.11 inches. Only one other October since 2000 has recorded more than 4 inches of rain (4.19 inches in 2006).

Historically, there have been a number of Octobers wetter than this one. Records-keeping began in Oneida in 1952. Here are our wettest Octobers since then:

1.) 8.01″ (1984)
2.) 7.11″ (2009)
3.) 6.99″ (1983)
4.) 6.62″ (1995)
5.) 6.61″ (1970)
6.) 6.59″ (1981)
7.) 5.95″ (1975)
8.) 5.77″ (1986)
9.) 5.66″ (1990)
10.) 5.55″ (1959)
11.) 5.53″ (1973)
12.) 5.29″ (1976)
13.) 5.11″ (2014)
14.) 5.04″ (1979)

I pointed out on another post a few days ago that October is often a volatile month — it can be really dry, or it can be really wet. So while there have been no shortage of wet Octobers in these parts, what really makes this year’s rainfall total stand out is just how dry October can oftentimes be. Consider the 10 driest Octobers on record in Oneida:

1.) 0.12″ (1963)
2.) 0.42″ (1953)
3.) 0.57″ (2000)
4.) 1.02″ (1952)
5.) 1.13″ (1958)
6.) 1.50″ (1991)
7.) 1.53″ (1982)
8.) 1.77″ (1998)
9.) 1.79″ (1954)
10.) 1.91″ (1980)

Part of it is also physiological. October 2013 was one of the driest Octobers on record in Oneida (1.94 inches of rain, making it the 13th-driest October overall). And we’re just coming out of September, which was one of the driest Septembers on record locally — and the single driest September ever in the greatest Knoxville area.

And you also have to consider that we’ve reached these historically-impressive rainfall totals in just one half of the month. (The medium-range models look much drier for the remainder of October, so we may not see these numbers climb too much between now and November. However, today’s 12z run of the GFS model shows a fairly robust system around Oct. 28-29, which could push this October at least into the 10 wettest Octobers on record in Oneida.)

By the way, in Crossville, where 8.53 inches of rain have been recorded: It is already the second-wettest October ever there, dating back to the start of records-keeping in 1912. The wettest October was 10.85 inches of rain, in 1925.

Ebola: Teetering on the edge

The CDC is now asking 132 passengers on a Frontier Airlines flight from Cleveland to Dallas to check in after revelations that the second Texas nurse to be diagnosed with Ebola flew on that flight the night before she tested positive.

The real story here isn’t the nurse’s flight. Let’s be honest: the chances that she transmitted the disease to anyone else on that flight are miniscule. 

The real story is that a second nurse has the virus to start with. 

Every day, new revelations are coming out about Ebola in America that should make all of us downright angry. Maybe even a little scared, but definitely angry, as taxpayers.

The CDC’s annual budget is well over $6 billion dollars. That’s $6,000,000,000. And, at least on the disease preparedness and response end of it, this Ebola test has been a complete failure.

The fact that the Texas hospital did not catch on to the significance of a patient who had just arrived stateside from Liberia experiencing Ebola-like symptoms. The fact that hospital staff were caring for the patient without proper infectious disease protocols in place. The fact that two healthcare workers have now tested positive and are were milling about before their diagnosis, potentially exposing dozens (hundreds?) of others to the disease.

And how long did we have to prepare for this? This outbreak didn’t begin last week, or even last month. America has one of the best health care systems in the world. It wasn’t a question of if someone would carry Ebola to the U.S. seeking treatment. It was a question of when.

It’s one thing when a single patient from Liberia flies into Texas and immediately starts experiencing symptoms of Ebola. The CDC is monitoring dozens of people who had contact with him and, thus far, none have become sick. That’s why I maintained in an earlier post here (and why many people who, unlike me, are actually knowledgeable on this subject say the same thing) that it will be difficult for a disease like Ebola to become a pandemic in America. Unlike the cold or flu, Ebola isn’t an airborne illness. It’s transmitted by bodily fluids — much like, say, the common stomach virus…but it’s also much less contagious than the stomach virus, which is why none of the non-healthcare people who had contact with the original Ebola patient have become sick. 

But when a health care worker exhibits symptoms, that’s dozens more people who have to be monitored because they were potentially exposed to the virus. Then a second health care worker exhibits symptoms, and that’s dozens more. 

It’s not hard to envision a scenario where this soon begins to become uncontrollable. 

It’s a long ways from uncontrollable now, obviously, despite the hyperbole from the news media. But with our nation’s resources, protocols and wealth, there’s no excuse for it even getting to this point.

Kentucky, you ol’ basketball school you

Kentucky isn’t a football school.

Never has been; never will be.

The Wildcats, under the direction of second-year head coach Mark Stoops, are off to one of their best starts in the past half-century. They’re 5-1 for the first time since 2007, and most folks will tell you that UK is the most-improved team in the SEC this season (which is saying a lot, given the surge of the two programs down in Mississippi). 

Yet the Wildcats are having more trouble filling their stadium than any team in the SEC.

Take a look at this season’s attendance numbers. An average of only 55,612 are attending home games at Commonwealth Stadium this season, but that only tells half the story; Kentucky has one of the smallest stadiums in the SEC. The full picture is seen when you look at the capacity percentage of the stadiums: 

1.) South Carolina – 103%
2.) Ole Miss – 101%
3.) Texas A&M – 100%
3.) Auburn – 100%
3.) Georgia – 100%
6.) Alabama – 99.5%
7.) Mississippi State – 99%
8.) LSU – 99%
9.) Tennessee – 97%
10.) Florida – 97%
11.) Missouri – 95%
12.) Arkansas – 94%
13.) Vanderbilt – 84%
14.) Kentucky – 82%

Yes, even Vandy — where Derek Mason is crashing-and-burning in his first season as a head coach — is coming closer to selling out its stadium than Kentucky.

UT vs. Chattanooga: 10 points

1.) The offensive line. There was a lot of talk after the Vols gave up six sacks against Florida last week. Today, the Vols gave up six sacks against Chattanooga. Let that sink in for a moment. Chattanooga. Look, as FCS teams go, Chattanooga is good. In fact, they’re currently ranked No. 12 in the nation among all FCS teams. But giving up six sacks to any FCS team should be considered unacceptable for an SEC school. That’s 12 sacks in the last two games alone. At what point does Tennessee simply tell their guys to lay down after the snap and let the defensive linemen jump over them? That would probably slow down the defensive front more than the current schemes.

2.) Worley’s vision. For the most part, Justin Worley played a much better game than last week against Florida. It would be easy to say, “Well, duh…it was against a totally different defense.” Except, see point No. 1 above. (To be fair, Worley had a lot of plays today on which he had a lot of time to throw…that never happened against Florida.) Worley’s stat line speaks for itself: 19 of 24 for 198 yards and 3 touchdowns. But, again, there was a sack-fumble which resulted in a turnover. That, remember, was the turning point of last week’s loss to Florida, and it also happened at a crucial time against Oklahoma a few weeks ago.

3.) Butch trolling. Earlier this week, Butch Jones invited the Knoxville media to an offseason skull session so he could teach them what is and isn’t a read option for his quarterback. The zone read was all the talk after last week’s loss to Florida. Today, Justin Worley keeps the ball and scores two touchdowns. Then Nathan Peterman does the same in the fourth quarter. That prompted this tweet from Newport Plain Talk sports editor Seth Butler — who, let’s be honest, was putting into words what many of us were thinking:

4.) Halfway there. There isn’t much you can take away from a win over your little sister to the south, except to say this: It was a win. And at the end of the season, every win will be crucial. Today’s win evened the Vols’ record at 3-3. It also brought Tennessee to the halfway mark in the search for bowl eligibility. If Tennessee can repeat that 3-3 record in the second half of the season, the Vols will be bowling in December or January. Unfortunately, there isn’t a team on the schedule in the second half of the season that is as poor as Utah State, Arkansas State or Chattanooga.

5.) Well, Vandy… Yeah, I take that back. Utah State could stomp a mud puddle in Vanderbilt this season. But besides the West End bunch…

6.) The rug looks bad. Some other Tennessee fans have pointed this out previously, but Shields-Watkins Field is looking — well, bad. I’m not sure Doug’s Rug looked this bad when they finally ripped up the artificial turf and put down sod in the early ’90s. What gives? I’m not a groundskeeper, but it’s safe to say that Tennessee has the ugliest playing surface in the SEC right now…inside the conference’s best stadium. I suppose that’s the exact opposite of the old saying about a “Hundred dollar saddle on a ten dollar horse.”

7.) Rushing struggles. This goes back to point No. 1, but we might as well say it. Tennessee finished with 123 rushing yards today, after accounting for the 41 yards lost on sacks. But that’s really a deceiving number, because so many of those yards came late in the game, when the fat lady was already into her swan song. In the first half, the Vols had fewer than 40 yards rushing…against Chattanooga. And averaged just over two yards per carry…against Chattanooga. In case we need reminding, next up is a trip to Oxford to face Ole Miss, which has one of the nation’s best defenses.

8.) Medley grows up. Tennessee entered the season with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the kicking game. Now? Not so much. Freshman Aaron Medley has come a long way. Yes, he did miss a 42-yard field goal attempt today, but he was four-for-four in the first half on putting his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. By the end of the game, seven of his eight kickoffs had gone for touchbacks. Yeah, we’ll take that.

9.) Croom grows up. It’s no secret that Jason Croom has struggled a bit this season. But today he really seemed to start to feel more comfortable on the field. He finished with a team-high six receptions for 76 yards. With opposing secondaries bracketing Marquez North and with UT’s receivers struggling to get open in general, even more growth from Croom is crucial for the next two games.

10.) VOLS WON A FREAKIN’ COIN TOSS!!! Enough said.

Why the panic over ebola?

Charles Krauthammer has a good take on the “extremely unlikely” possibility that ebola will become prevalent in the United States:

“Look this is extremely unlikely that you have a breakout, an epidemic in a First World country, surely not in the U.S.” Krauthammer said. “However, if you get an outbreak of even a small number of cases when it is unnecessary and preventable, that would be a tragedy.”

So why quote Krauthammer? He’s not an expert on ebola and he’s certainly not the only person trying to calm unnecessary fears about an ebola epidemic in the U.S.

But Krauthammer IS a staunch conservative. And his words are a stark contrast from every conservative’s favorite muckraker, Matt Drudge.

For the past two months, the ultra-popular Drudge Report has been Ebola Central. And since the arrival of the disease in the U.S., Drudge — who consistently uses his site to stir emotion through hyperbole — has gone overboard.

Defenders of Drudge will say, “But he’s only an aggregator. He only links to stories.” But the details are in the presentation.

Currently, Drudge links to a CBS story, in which CDC director Tom Frieden says: “We have to work now so that [ebola] is not the world’s next AIDS.”

But Drudge presents the story like this: “CDC CHIEF: INTENSITY OF EBOLA SPREAD UNSEEN SINCE AIDS.”

And while it has since been removed, Drudge presented a story on The Hill this morning claiming that the CDC director admits ebola may be airborne. But, in context, the CDC director was addressing the potential that ebola might mutate enough to eventually become airborne. And even at that, which is purely speculation, Frieden said the possibilities are low:

“The rate of change [with Ebola] is slower than most viruses, and most viruses don’t change how they spread,” he said. Frieden is unofficially spearheading the U.S. response to Ebola.

“That is not to say it’s impossible that it could change [to become airborne],” he continued. “That would be the worst-case scenario. We would know that by looking at … what is happening in Africa. That is why we have scientists from the CDC on the ground tracking that.”

In the meantime, you don’t have to look any further than Facebook to find people unnecessarily panicking over ebola. Burying our heads in the sand about this illness and pretending it doesn’t exist does us no good. But unnecessarily stirring the flames of public panic is completely foolish…which is why Drudge has gone from being a journalist admired the world over for breaking the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to being just another hack with an agenda to push.

Another UT-beater suspended

This is becoming bizarre.

Just three days after Florida freshman quarterback Treon Harris was suspended indefinitely on allegations of rape, Georgia’s Heisman hopeful running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely for receiving improper benefits (taking money to sign memorabilia).

So, to recap, Tennessee has two SEC losses. And the two players most responsible for those losses are no longer with their teams.

Yellow jackets are nasty

I have the misfortune of having a piece of property that yellow jackets love — probably because there are a number of fruit trees on my lawn. During a typical summer, I stumble upon 2-3 nests while mowing. I usually manage to get stung, and usually multiple times. Some of my citified friends who have never encountered a nest of yellow jackets say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a wasp.”

Yeah. Just a wasp. But while all wasps are mean and vicious, yellow jackets nest together by the thousands, unlike the paper wasps that nest on the bottom of your grill or inside your door frame, where a dozen or more is considered a big nest.

Check out this video for a perfect example of what happens when you disturb a nest of yellow jackets. They rally the forces against perceived enemies, and they rally in a hurry.