In which a 41-year-old Commodore fan stuck on Amtrak struggles to make sense of where the season is going.
I was on a train from San Jose to Sacramento for this game, with only the iPhone, so I didn't see anything at AoG. I barely saw anything period - I gave up quickly on WatchESPN and listened to Joe via the Vandy app, and the Twitter feed was obviously well ahead of the stream. So if I reiterate stuff people have already gone off about, my apologies for the redundancy.
Phew. Where to start? The defense forces five turnovers and we still lose by 32? I don't agree with the people who were slagging Patton Robinette; the kid is a redshirt freshman making his first start and it's on the road against a ranked team in front of 85,000, so I'm not going to pin it on him. Our QB health situation is not encouraging. Actually our health is not encouraging, full stop - if Krause can't go, there's nothing to prevent teams quadrupling on JMatt.
As I said on Twitter - this is what happens when you come to a gunfight with only four bullets. It was always going to take shenanigans and tricks and breaks to make this happen, and we used up our supply against Georgia. But I don't get how you could go for consecutive on-side kicks yet never try a Q-set (fine, wildcat) drive. It worked a treat that one drive against Ole Miss, it worked against Carolina in the second half, it has worked again in spots, why wouldn't you go to it more often in a situation where you're already depleted at QB? And most of all - this was the worst defense in the league by miles, and the only hope of winning lies in keeping the ball away from the Aggies' Heisman-winner QB, so why wouldn't you just run straight power until forcibly prevented?
I should probably be on the defense more, but Kenny Ladler was a one-man gang on turnovers, and Manziel didn't run for that much - if you'd said before the game that we would lose but hold Manziel to 11 yards on the ground and force 5 turnovers, I think most of us would have taken that. Hell, for that matter, we are coming to the backstretch with a record of 4-4, and we have UK and Wake left plus a depleted Florida and an iffy (yet improving) UT, and that's a scenario I think a lot of people would have been satisfied with in the wake of the Ole Miss loss.
In the spring of 2011, I laid out my expectations for the program under CJF, and the five-year plan has more or less been fulfilled. Winning season, beat UT, beat a ranked opponent, get to a bowl outside 615 - these are all things that would have made the season all by themselves once upon a time. I think it's going to be a longer row to hoe than the first two seasons might have led us to believe. I think we're going to be a young team next year, and I think we're going to be a really good team in 2015 with wall-to-wall Franklin recruits and seasoning.
But that's not a comfort now, and there's another problem: last year was our best season in almost a century, 9 wins, over .500 in conference, and it was good for 4th place in the SEC East. When you can have a top-20 recruiting class and only be 9th in the conference, it's time to accept that breaking through to the next level is going to be a pretty heavy lift. We have to consolidate the gains we've make, ensure that we're competitive every time out, establish the baseline season as six wins rather than two - and crucially for our attendance and fan base growth, demonstrate that the other shoe is not going to drop. There are a lot of people, and not just in Knoxville and Lexington, who are desperate for us to drop back into the cellar and proclaim that normal service has been restored.So it's a road loss to a top-15 team. It sucks, but I'm not going to run up the white flag. Lot of ball left to play, and while 8-4 may not be likely in the cold light of morning, it's also not a ridiculous prospect, and that's enough for me right now.