Her younger son is beginning his third season as Tennessee’s coach, but the sight of Barbara Dooley in orange still serves as a shock to the senses. For the first night of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, the former grande dame of Georgia football came wearing the following:
Orange jacket. White blouse. White slacks. White sandals with orange piping, or whatever it is you call that mesh stuff on the top of women’s sandals.
Her husband, who once made his red-and-black living trying to squeeze the daylights out of the Big Orange, came more sedately clad. Vince Dooley had on khaki pants, a white polo shirt and white socks with Birkenstocks. (OK, I’m kidding about the footwear.)
“I’m doing fine now,” Barbara Dooley said, speaking 30 minutes before kickoff. “But in two hours I might not be.”
Ninety minutes later, Derek Dooley’s Vols were leading North Carolina State 22-7, having scored 16 points in 38 seconds. And I know what you’re saying: “Sixteen points in 38 seconds — two touchdowns and two two-point conversions, right?” Nope. It was wilder than that.
Get the picture: N.C. State leads 7-6 and, with 1:31 remaining in the longest first quarter in the history of humankind, faces fourth-and-3 at the Tennessee 35. Convert here and State has a chance to establish a working lead, and Wolfpack receivers have already displayed the capacity to shake free of Tennessee’s coverage, such as it is.
But not this time. Mike Glennon, whose quarterbacking brother Sean presided over a famous second-half collapse by Virginia Tech in the 2006 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Georgia, throws a pretty awful interception. Then Tyler Bray up and hits a Volunteer receiver named Rogers — through not Da’Rick Rogers, the infamous recruit from Calhoun, Ga. — for 72-yard touchdown. (For the record, the Rogers in question is named Zach.)
Some turnaround, huh? Fourth-down interception, first-down touchdown. Wait. It gets wilder. On the Pack’s next snap, Mike Glennon drops to throw and, for reasons unclear, holds the ball and retreats toward his end zone, whereupon he loses the ball, which is recovered by a State lineman but yields a safety. Now the Pack trails 15-7 and has to kick the ball to Tennessee, which again requires all of one play to score.
This time it’s a pretty reverse to the receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who’d already scored on a 41-yard reception. This 67-yard run puts Tennessee ahead 22-7, and here we pause for both breath and perspective: Three snaps have yielded three Vol scores. Whoa, Nelly.
But wait. It would get wilder still. State scored to draw within 22-14. The Vols moved to the Wolfpack 1 inside the final 30 seconds of the half. Bray sought to sneak for score but was hit in the backfield. He tried to extend the ball over the goal line — breaking the plane, as it were — but saw the ball knocked from his grasp. State recovered.
Replay was consulted, and one angle appeared to show the ball still in Bray’s hands above the plane. But Tennessee wasn’t granted its touchdown, prompting a massive roar from those in orange, who outnumbered those in State red 2-to-1. In all, it was a suitable (not to say clinical) ending to a first half that saw 586 yards gained.
For Barbara’s baby boy, it was a flying start to an important autumn. Derek Dooley had lost 14 of his first 25 games at Tennessee, and last season the Vols could win only one SEC game — that against Vanderbilt, that in overtime. Another halting season could leave Dooley the Younger looking for work.
But Tennessee, it must be said, looked pretty spiffy against an opponent that has been pegged as a potential ACC sleeper. They shrugged off their end-of-the-half gaffe to score twice more in the third quarter, building their lead to 32-14. They ran faster, hit harder and looked, not to put too fine a point on it, like a mid-table SEC team is supposed to look against an opponent from that presumed lesser league.
Through three quarters, Tennessee had outgained State by 141 yards, but the job wasn’t quite done. The Wolfpack scored early in the fourth to draw within 11 points, and if ever teams had reason to believe anything was possible, these two did. Sixteen points in 38 seconds, remember?
The rest of the game, perhaps mercifully, was rather tame. State wouldn’t score again. Tennessee would add a field goal. The Vols won 35-21, which happened to be the score of Boise State’s victory over Georgia in this event last season. This game, for what it’s worth, was far more entertaining than that monstrosity.
By Mark Bradley