In 2008 Tennessee was struggling (3-5) under Phillip Fulmer when No. 2 Alabama came to Neyland Stadium. In the final minutes of the game I looked into the stands and saw nothing but crimson, at least 30,000 strong. The score was 29-9 and the Tennessee fans had left early. They had seen enough. Nick Saban’s second team at Alabama had sent the message: “There is a new sheriff in town.”
Then the Alabama crowd yelled: “We just beat the hell out of you.”
I knew it was over for Fulmer, who in 17 seasons had elevated the program to national championship status and had played for the SEC championship the year before. When I saw him in the interview area I shook his hand and looked him in the eye. He knew it was over, too.
The following season Lane Kiffin was the head coach at Tennessee. But that is another story for another day.
I tell you that story because it makes the point that coaches are not fired strictly because of how many games they lose. They get fired because: 1) they lose the fan base and 2) They lose the locker room.
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After losing its last game to Georgia 41-0 in Knoxville on Sept. 30, it’s pretty clear that the Tennessee fans are ready to move on in this, Jones’s fifth year. The question is: Has he lost the players?
I think we’re going to find out on Saturday when Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 SEC) hosts South Carolina (4-2, 2-2).
Appropriately, the game is at high noon.
Do the Tennessee fans—all 102,455 of them—show up or do they sit this one out? Apathy and empty seats forces change.
Will Tennessee lose the game? It would be Jones’s second straight loss to South Carolina.
And, by the way, the Vols have to go to No. 1 Alabama next week.
Tennessee is going to start redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback for the first time this season. Is that attempt to jump-start the offense or an act of desperation?
Keep your eye on this one, folks.
Here are some story lines I’m following on Week 7:
RICHT VS. JOHNSON
Mark Richt won his biggest game as the head coach at Miami (4-0, 2-0 ACC) last week as the Hurricanes scored with six seconds left to beat Florida State 24-20. It snapped Miami’s seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles.
But the win came at a cost as Mark Walton, Miami’s top running back, was lost for the season with an ankle injury. At least four other key players are dinged up and questionable for Saturday’s key Coastal division game with Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0).
In 15 years (2001-2015) as the head coach at Georgia, Richt was 13-2 against Georgia Tech. Last season his first Miami team beat the Yellow Jackets 35-21 in Atlanta. He has won seven of nine meetings with Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.
DAMIEN HARRIS AND HONEY BUNS
I don’t know about you, but when Damien Harris burst through the Texas A&M defense for a 75-yard touchdown run last Saturday, I thought “Whoa!”
Here is the run from 247Sports:
Harris ran for 1,037 yards last season on 146 carries (7.1 avg), which was the second-most attempts behind quarterback Jalen Hurts. But Harris didn’t have the burst of speed he showed against the Aggies.
As it turns out, Harris dropped a few pounds by giving up his favorite snack, “honey buns.”
“I haven’t had one in months. Probably since June or July,” Harris told reporters this week. “It hurts to talk about it.”
It worked. He leads the conference with 11 runs of over 10 yards. He has four runs of 30-plus yards. And he also had a 61-yard touchdown run against Vanderbilt. Look for him to have another big game on Saturday against Arkansas.
CAN AUBURN FINALLY GET A WIN IN BATON ROUGE?
The Auburn-LSU football rivalry is a lot of things but it is never boring:
**--LSU lost to Auburn 18-13 last season in Baton Rouge. The next day LSU coach Les Miles was fired.
**--Fifteen of the last 27 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
**--In 1988 in Baton Rouge, LSU trailed 6-0 and faced a fourth down from the Auburn 11-yard line with only 1:47 left. Tommy Hodson threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Fuller in the back of the end zone to win the game. The burst of noise that erupted from Tiger Stadium was so shattering that it registered on the seismograph at the LSU geology department. It is still known as “The Earthquake game.”
No. 10 Auburn (5-1, 3-0) is rounding into a team that could challenge Alabama in the West. But first Gus Malzahn’s team has to beat LSU in Baton Rouge, something they haven’t done since 1999.
LSU (4-2, 1-1), which was a dumpster fire just two weeks ago after the loss to Troy, is feeling better about things since a 17-16 win at Florida.
**--Florida (3-2, 3-1) is really in a must-win situation as Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) comes to the The Swamp. If Florida loses this game then Georgia (6-0, 3-0), which will be heavily favored to beat Missouri on homecoming, will essentially have a two-game lead in the SEC East.
**--Missouri (1-4, 0-3) will arrive at Georgia having lost 10 straight road games.
**--After the loss of wide receiver Deebo Samuel to a season-ending injury, South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has found a new primary weapon. Tight end Hayden Hurst, a former professional baseball player, has 148 yards of receiving in the Gamecocks’ past two games. Hurst had a 62-yard reception last week vs. Arkansas.
**--Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3) finally gets a break after playing four straight nationally-ranked teams (Kansas State, Alabama, Florida, Georgia) for the first time in school history. On Saturday the Commodores go to Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2), which is giving up 37.4 points and 248 yards rushing per game.