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Q&A with Rocky Top Talk

With the Tigers heading up to play Tennessee this weekend, we did a Q&A with fellow SBN blogger and Vol fan extraordinaire (he knows how to do cool flash stuff too!!!) Rocky Top Talk. I'll link to his posting of my responses when they're up. My answers to his questions (along with TigerSmack's answers) are here. Enjoy:

1. How offended are you to be an underdog by two, at home, to a Les Miles-coached team?

Not very, to be honest.  This Les Miles-coached team is, statistically speaking at least, the best team in the SEC.  First in the SEC in scoring, first in the SEC in total offense, first in the SEC in scoring defense, and first in the SEC (and in the nation) in total defense.  Add in the revenge factor from last year's game, and calling it even (give or take a few points either way) is generous, in my opinion.

2. Not a question, but we really are sorry about shaking your bus last year. Please be gentle.

Yeah, what was up with that?  Didn't y'all break some windows or something, too?  Is that the way you treated the small "v" volunteers traveling south, too?  Of course, I know we were coming to stomp you instead of lending a helping hand, so maybe that had something to do with it.  Anyway, last year was such an aberration that I wouldn't make the mistake of concluding that anything that happened at that time was characteristic of anyone.  I did find it a compelling story that you had the whole world on your side.

3. Is David Cutcliffe the entire difference between last year and this year?

Cutcliffe is the face of the Vols' resurgence this season, but he's not the entire difference.  The pain of last year would have worked wonders all by itself in terms of motivating the players, making them coachable, etc., and  I think that's the biggest part of the difference between last year and this year.  A whole bunch of little things make up the rest.

Just before the season kicked off this year, I spent two miserable weeks poking and prodding at the corpse of the 2005 season in an attempt to learn something from it. As I went through that exercise, I was struck by how small the margin of victory or defeat can be on both a macro and micro level. A 5-6 season for the Volunteers is horrible, but when you look closer, you find that a wicked combination of little things conspired to contribute to a negative tipping point. The loss to Florida? A handful of special teams goofs. Georgia? A penalty-plagued field position nightmare. Alabama? Two lost fumbles inside the ten when one measly field goal would have tied it and two would have won. South Carolina? A fumble within a blade of fescue of the goal line meant a one-point loss. Vanderbilt? An inability to convert on fourth down and inches within three yards of the goal line.

What came out of that exercise was a cementing of a belief that little things can lead to catastrophic change, especially in a game of inches, and if a team's inattention to detail can tip the season to 5-6, refocusing on the little things can tip the season the other way.

I think that Fulmer made this idea the theme of the off-season and the 2006 season, that the rest of the coaching staff has implemented the plan extraordinarily well (to date), and that the players have bought the theme hook, line, and sinker.  The Vols now practice at game speed without green jerseys. They have minimized penalties and other errors. They've limited their receiver rotation, and their QB has been rebuilt, from the neck up to the waist down. What you saw last year was the result of ignoring the little things, and what you're seeing this year is the impact that focusing on the minutiae can have in a game of inches.  David Cutcliffe and the other coaches have made this happen, but coach Fulmer gets the credit for casting the vision and getting all of the chess pieces on the board in the right places.

4. Other than the collective drunken coonass corndog-fragrant horde descending upon Knoxville, what worries Vols fans the most coming into this game?

First, see the answer to the first question.  The Tigers are great on offense and great on defense.  Add to that a gimpy Tennessee QB and a run defense that is improving but has a long way to go, and . . . well, let's just say we's got worries.

5. Given that UT is heavily superior to both Bama and South Carolina on the talent front this year, what exactly happened the last two weeks? I suppose "rivalry game vs 'Bama" can be one excuse, but...you guys saving something for us?

I wish.  Alabama's always tight, its defensive coordinator rolled out (get it? rolled out?  I kill me) a brand new defensive scheme that it took some time to adjust to, and Ainge was a bit rusty coming off a bye week.  The Team Formerly Known as South Carolina is now known simply as "Steve Spurrier," who's been giving coach Fulmer and Vol fans fits forever.  No, we could not afford to save anything for the LSU game.  We are what we've shown, for better or worse.

6. What matchup in this game are you most excited about? (Or, which should the Tigers be most concerned about?)

I'd say the marquee matchup pits the Vols' passing offense against the Tiger secondary.  It's the SEC's top passing attack (Erik Ainge to Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain, and Bret Smith) trying to score against the SEC's top passing defense (corners Jonathan Zenon and Chevis Jackson and safeties Jessie Daniels and LaRon Landry).  This will likely be a push.  The game will probably be decided on the strength of your offense against our defense, which is generally pretty good, but perhaps not up to the task of stopping the SEC's top balanced offense.

7. When will we get to ever see Jim Bob Cooter, and does he have a family lineage we can look forward to over the next couple decades at all akin to the puntin' Colquitts?

I've said before that if the Colquitts were horses, they'd be owned by some Saudi Arabian prince.  Insert your own joke about what would happen if the Cooters were horses.

Vol fans have been waiting forever to see Jim Bob in action, but alas, it looks like it's not going to happen.  Maybe on senior day against Kentucky.  They say he's the smartest guy on the team, and that's saying something when backup backup backup running back David Yancey is well on his way to a career in nuclear engineering.

Don't know nuthin' 'bout Cooter's sibs, cousins, or youngin's.  But I bet he marries somebody with two first names.

ed. Thanks Joel!