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I suppose Thursday night could have been worse for Lane Kiffin. But I'm having trouble figuring out how.
Sure, the unranked Vols were an underdog against No. 11 Virginia Tech by any measure you can use. But the positive momentum supposedly generated by the strong end of the season should have made the Game Formerly Known as the Peach Bowl competitive. It wasn't, as the Hokies took a 17-14 lead at halftime and then made it a 37-14 final margin in a convincing rout.
If you want to know why the Vols fell short, there's a simple number to explain it: Five. That's the total rushing yardage producing by the part of Tennessee's offense that has always been effective when the team has been good and less than productive when the Vols have been subpar. (Six Crompton sacks, for a loss of 55 yards, didn't help.) And if we learned anything Thursday, it's that Lane Kiffin's rebuilding project still has a long way to go if he wants Tennessee to be among the nation's elite.
Then came the unsurprising word from Eric Berry, a class act to the very end, about his future. Berry will enter the NFL Draft in April.
It's so hard for me to leave that all behind to go into the draft. But it's just something I feel like I have to do because I want to see my parents just relax. It's so hard. It's like I don't want to go, but I've got to.
That won't make it any easier for the Tennessee defense, which was carved up Thursday night for 439 yards, including 229 rushing. Monte Kiffin might be a great defensive coach, but a magician he is not.
And while Jonathan Crompton had another average night at quarterback for the Vols (15-26, 235 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) depite his sack total, he is gone next season. Tennessee's effort to build a backfield capable of competing in a wide-open SEC East will have to start at ground zero.
I suppose it could have been worse for Lane Kiffin. Some recruits might have decided to go to another school after watching the debacle unfold Thursday night. But that, like the ultimate outcome of the Lane Kiffin Era at Tennessee, won't be known for quite some time.