Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
This week, Tennessee’s football team gets a chance to catch its breath, and Lane Kiffin gets a chance to do one of the things he does best -- recruit.
The Vols are off this Saturday after their 45-19 thrashing of Georgia last week, and all of a sudden, those fears of going 0-for-October have been replaced with renewed hope.
Maybe there will be an Octoberfest for the Vols after all.
“We love this feeling we’ve got right now,” Tennessee junior receiver Gerald Jones told reporters Monday. “Not only did we beat a team like Georgia, but we beat them by a large margin. I think we love this feeling, and we’re not going to let it slip up.”
The Vols (3-3, 1-2) put it all together in their best all-around performance of the season against the Bulldogs. And if they were any better on special teams, that game would have been even more lopsided than it was.
Even in its three losses this season, Tennessee has hung around and played well enough on defense to still be in the game in the second half.
But you never got the sense that the Vols were potent enough offensively to be a threat against the upper-tier teams in this league … until that Georgia game.
Jonathan Crompton had a career day against the Bulldogs with 310 yards passing and four touchdowns. He’s not going to play like that the rest of the way, but it’s also reasonable to think that he’s not going to play as poorly as he did in September, either, when he threw eight interceptions in four games.
Ifs and buts are just that, but what would Tennessee’s record be right now had Crompton been merely serviceable in those games?
He’s played better the past two weeks and should have some momentum going to Alabama in two weeks. With a competent passing game, Tennessee becomes a team nobody wants to face the second half of the season.
Winning at Alabama is a long shot regardless of how well Crompton plays at quarterback, but that South Carolina game on Oct. 31 in Knoxville looms as large as ever.
There were four home games that were critical for the Vols coming into this season -- UCLA, Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina. Splitting those four games would almost certainly mean that this team could get to at least seven wins and go to a bowl game.
The Vols could get that split by beating the Gamecocks, which would be a stark reversal from how the season ended a year ago.
It was like a funeral around Rocky Top last November. But there’s hope on the horizon as the Vols point toward the second half of the season this year.
A bowl game, any bowl game, would be huge for this team. If for nothing else, just to get the extra practice time.
We saw how Kiffin’s Vols handled that patch of adversity in September. They kept fighting and kept believing.
We’ll see now how they handle a little success.