Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
When is a loss really a win?
See Tennessee’s 23-13 setback at No. 1-ranked Florida on Saturday.
The Vols weren’t supposed to just lose the game. They were supposed to lose their manhood, their pride, any sense of belonging as a legitimate threat in the SEC this season.
Well, none of the above happened, and it’s a new day on Rocky Top.
Now the hard part begins: Can Tennessee build on the biggest moral victory this program has seen since maybe 1979, John Majors’ third season as coach.
The outmanned Vols were 20-point underdogs that day and faced a No. 1-ranked Alabama team that would go on to win its second straight national championship.
Tennessee took the fight to Alabama and jumped out to a 17-0 lead at Legion Field, but Alabama came charging back to win a hard-fought 27-17 game.
Not that the Big Orange Nation needs to be reminded, but Tennessee lost at home two weeks later to Rutgers on homecoming.
It’s just that kind of dip that Lane Kiffin’s club wants to avoid, especially with Ohio coming to town this weekend.
Build off what you did at the Swamp. Don’t live off it.
On the field, this Tennessee team still has plenty to prove. The Vols are 1-2, and their only win came over a Western Kentucky team that lost 28-7 at home last week to Central Arkansas.
So nobody should be making BCS bowl plans just yet … or any bowl plans, for that matter.
But the Vols’ defense is certainly good enough to keep this team in every game it plays. The running game, namely Montario Hardesty, showed some spark against the Gators, and the young talent on the roster is impressive.
The biggest hurdle remains a passing game that’s non-existent at this point, and that’s not all on senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, either. Yes, he has seven interceptions in three games. And, yes, he hasn’t proven he can get it done against a legitimate defense.
But pass protection and receivers being where they’re supposed to be, running the proper routes and making plays all factor into the equation.
Kiffin’s greatest dilemma may be when and if he’s going to give backup quarterback Nick Stephens a chance. There’s no reason to believe that Stephens would be a huge upgrade. Otherwise, he’d already be playing.
But when a player struggles the way Crompton has, the head coach owes it to the rest of the team to at least look at his options. In the past, Stephens has fared better in games than he has in practice.
The Vols have three straight home games upcoming that will shape their season one way or the other. After Ohio’s visit this weekend, Auburn and Georgia come to town.
This is a team that’s capable of getting hot and being the kind of team nobody wants to face in a bowl game. The Vols proved that at the Swamp.
It’s also a team that’s capable of being average at best and not much of a threat to anybody that counts, as the Vols showed at home two weeks ago in their 19-15 loss to UCLA.
Stay tuned to find out which team comes to the forefront at season’s end.
Of course, the first order of business is making sure there's not a repeat of that Rutgers debacle 30 years ago.