(This is a legit post that I already had in draft and not at all a way to push that picture down the page. YIKES.)
So here we are, sitting at 3-3 coming into the Army game for Homecoming. I think we are sitting exactly where most folks expected us to be - winning the first three at home and then dropping two tough road games. As for the Georgia game, I think most people would say it was a competitive loss, certainly more so than the two preceding it - and in all three games, a touchdown in the last minute of the first half obscures a pretty good 29 minutes of football in adverse conditions. But still, despite the three-game losing streak, a .500 record at the halfway mark is about as good a result as we could have hoped for back in December when we were first introduced to our rookie coach.
It's worthwhile to consider the quality of our wins, too. While we always should have beaten Elon - and the performance of their stud receiver made that a lot scarier than it ought to have been - the way in which we won the other two was a clear demonstration that things have changed. Against UConn, we took their best shot, rallied, and came back to take charge of the game. Against Ole Miss, once we got rolling, we never took our foot off the gas and very nearly delivered a beatdown for the ages; at the very least, we may well add Houston Nutt to the collection of "coaches who lost their job because of Vanderbilt."
What else? We certainly miss Warren Norman, but Zac Stacy and Jerrod Seymour are certainly doing their best to take up the slack. Next year, with Norman back and Brian Kimbrow in the fold…the possible speed we could deploy next year would be unprecedented in our history. Quarterbacking…it looks like most of Dores Nation has settled on Rodgers, and I don't doubt he will probably see the bulk of snaps Saturday. Regardless of how you feel about Larry Smith, his nagging injury problems alone will probably make him the second option going forward. I suspect that the arrival of Austyn Carta-Samuels (from my wife's arch-rival high school, no less) will complicate matters, as will the presence of redshirt freshman/recruiting coordinator Josh Grady.
Defense…what can you say? Fifteen interceptions. The legacy of Corey Chavous and DJ Moore is safe in the hands of Heyward and Wilson, and Heyward's change-up power on offense has bailed us out of more than one sticky situation this year. Chris Marve is exactly what we expected, Tim Fugger is a bad mo--oh I can't even. Anyway, Tim is a BAD BAD MAN behind the line of scrimmage. Guys are stepping up and doing work.
The thing that really stands out to me, though - no sacks against Alabama. I would have bet my house, my automobile, my sister, the complete contents of my liquor cabinet and my iPhone that we would never hold Alabama's defense without a sack. Hell, only one against Georgia. Is it possible that Herb Hand is paying dividends at last? The offense certainly seemed to have the measure of Georgia, barring that first disastrous triple-coverage end-zone pick.
So what's next?
I think, again, most folks were and are predicting 3-3. Army at home: winner. Kentucky at home: winner. Wake Forest, on the road or at home or in the parking lot of the Green Hills Kroger: winner.
That leaves the conference road games. Of what's left, I dread Arkansas the most. Florida and Tennessee both have quarterback injury issues, and while we won't be favored in either matchup, they suddenly look eminently steal-able, especially in a Neyland Stadium where fans may well have tuned out and checked out by mid-November. At last check, Tennessee is getting even more points from Alabama in Tuscaloosa than we did.
But assuming we don't pull the upsets, is 6-6 still a successful first year? I don't know how anyone could think otherwise, especially coupled with the recruiting coups and the changed attitude and energy around the program. There are things left to handle, of course. Getting a packed student section from open gates to final gun is something that desperately needs to happen. An indoor practice facility is something else we really shouldn't be doing without in the new era. The big-time recruits have to be kept in the fold all the way to National Signing Day.
But for right now, the dream is alive and the future is bright. Anchor down? ANCHOR DOWN.