AN OPPOSING VIEW
I’ve known Mike Strange forever, it seems. He’s one of the truly nice guys and cool cats in the business and I think I’ve shared a cold one with him in every Southeastern state. A native Kentuckian, he has been covering the SEC and Tennessee Vols for the better part of a quarter century for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. You can read his blog, appropriately called “When You’re Strange,” right HERE.
Mike agreed to be my guest (victim?) for this week’s Opposing View. It’s a weekly feature in which we try to gain some objective insight on the Bulldogs’ opponent from the professionals who cover them.
So here’s what Mike had to say about this week’s game between No. 12 Georgia (2-1, 0-1 SEC) and the Vols (2-1, 0-0), which will be played Saturday at noon at Sanford Stadium (ESPN). …
Q: Can’t help but think that booting Phil Fulmer might be one of the worst firings ever in light of what has happened since he left the program. How — and what — is Fulmer doing? How’s the Tennessee fan feel about the direction of the program since his departure?
Strange: “Phillip Fulmer, who just turned 64, is staying busy. He works for an investment firm helmed by one of his former players. He is an adviser as East Tennessee State University in Johnson City restores a football program. He is delighted to spend time with his grandchildren.
“The Vol Nation, of course, has been rocked by the turmoil of the almost six years since Fulmer was fired. You hear phrases like ‘perfect storm’ and a lot of fingers pointed at former AD Mike Hamilton, who hired both Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. You can still get a healthy debate about whether UT should have given Fulmer more time or not.”
Q: How would you say Butch Jones been received by the Big Orange Nation and how would you describe his personality and coaching style from your perspective?
Strange: “Butch Jones wasn’t considered by most to be a home-run hire, coming with a background from Central Michigan and Cincinnati. The reviled Dooley even pounded Jones’ Cincinnati team in 2011. Heard around town: ‘They hired the only guy Dooley beat?’ But Jones quickly won support with his sincerity and recruiting successes. He immediately won back the ex-players who had been alienated by Dooley and that was an important victory. Butch is very detail-oriented, has a plan for everything, and the players and recruits both relate to him and his staff — even if the media finds his slogans corny. I think every constituency, including the media, thinks he’s a good guy.”
Q: Is it true that the Vols lost every starter on the offensive and defensive lines? If so, how does that happen? And are there some studs among the newbies?
Strange: “Yes, the Vols are reported to be the only program in the FBS, at the least, that lost every starter on both lines. The offensive line started four seniors and a junior who turned pro. The defensive line, likewise, was stocked with seniors. The coaching turmoil had led to attrition, naturally, and recruiting got off schedule. There was one class — Dooley’s last I believe — that included zero offensive linemen. That’s why two true freshmen are starting.”
Q: This game opened in Vegas with Georgia as 19-point favorites. You and I have been around long enough to know that’s crazy in this series. Where do you think the Vols might have some advantages they can capitalize on?
Strange: “Georgia is a big favorite for a reason. Tennessee’s offensive line will be over-matched. However, the Vols should have an advantage with their passing game against Georgia’s secondary — provided Justin Worley can stay on his feet long enough to throw. Two top receivers, Von Pearson and Josh Smith, are out with injuries but that’s still UT’s best position. Marquez North and Pig Howard, especially, are quality receivers. True freshman Josh Malone is a 5-star prospect who could bust out any week. Freshman tight end Ethan Wolf is also a weapon the Vols lacked last year.”
Q: Georgia once lost nine straight to UT and now is going for its fifth straight win in the series. What is the Tennessee fans view of Georgia under coach Mark Richt?
Strange: “I wrote a column in Sunday’s paper contrasting Richt’s stability to Tennessee’s turnover. UT was 9-4 in the 13 games prior to Richt and Georgia is 9-4 since he arrived. The few reactions I got from fans were mixed. A few would take Richt and his scenario in a heartbeat, a few wouldn’t. My opinion is that fans being fans, they’re reluctant to admit they respect what a rival coach has accomplished.”
Q: So what do you think about Saturday’s game?
Strange: “My hunch is Tennessee will be competitive enough to cover the spread. The Vols have been surprisingly decent on defense and have one of the nation’s best third-down defense percentages. I thought Oklahoma would blow that stat out of the water but it didn’t happen. Georgia wins, but not by 17.”