the hangover, week eight

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.

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