Oh, deep deep is the distrust that man can harbor for man. What else can explain the lack of gratitude displayed by Georgia athletic officials at the recent news that Tennessee was going to extreme pains and expense to have ready for its nationally televised season opener against Georgia next week a flawless field of synthetic grass called Tartan Turf? A $200,000 product of the 3M Company, the nongrass will neither rip nor gouge nor give way to dandelions. Of course, it has to be played on with special soccer-type shoes and it does take a little more getting used to than the normal combination of Bermuda, bent, rye and crab that football players are accustomed to digging out of their cleats and teeth. In addition, Georgia knows all about phony grass because it went marching off to Houston just a year ago and got into a season-spoiling upset on some stuff called AstroTurf. But could Georgia seriously think that the Vols would go to all this trouble just to have a little advantage over the Bulldogs, as well as other people like Alabama and UCLA, who are also going to be visiting Neyland Stadium in Knoxville this season? Yes indeed.
"This Tartan Turf may or may not be a grand product," huffs Georgia Athletic Director Joel Eaves. "I just don't like the idea of our players being used as guinea pigs in such an important game. Tennessee has a good football team and it doesn't need any extra advantages."
One of the advantages that Tennessee has gotten from springing its Tartan Turf on the surprised SEC is a psychological edge. To this it can add the 55,000 fans who sit in the Knoxville stands and scream, "Go, Vols, go," a team that is one of the conference's best and a young coach, Doug Dickey, who has caused his peers an undue share of discomfort. Put it all together and Tennessee is trouble—not as much as a year ago, but trouble.
Dickey is the man with the flat-top haircut who came out of Arkansas at the age of 31 and in four years made it clear that he was among the top young coaches anywhere. In the last three years he has won 25 of 33 games at Tennessee and taken his team to a different bowl every season. Last season was his best. His squad pushed UCLA and Gary Beban to the brink of the Pacific before losing 20-16, then came back to defeat nine teams in a row (including Alabama), wind up No. 2 in the nation and go to the Orange Bowl.
September 8, 1968
Gone from that squad are: Quarterback Dewey Warren, who broke all of Tennessee's passing records; Tailback Charlie Fulton, who could play quarterback, too; Bob Johnson, the All-America center, and Richmond Flowers, the hurdling wingback who decided to spend this year chasing an Olympic gold medal instead of a forward pass. When you lose people like that, complains fretful Doug Dickey, you've got to play a lot of defense. But Tennessee always plays a lot of defense—and that is the reason the Vols will be formidable again.
Since Dickey came to Tennessee, his teams have given up an average of only 10 points per game. They have done this by what is known in football parlance as making the other team hurt. To a layman, the phrase may imply something improper—like maiming or fouling—but the football fraternity uses it as a term of approval. You wake up on Tuesday morning following a game against an Alabama, an Oklahoma or a Tennessee and the bruises still hurt, because these are teams that hit every man hard on every play—they leave you hurting. Dickey's system for building a defense is to find two or three quick, brutal linebackers and proceed from there. In the past those outstanding linebackers have been Frank Emanuel, Paul Naumoff and the late Tom Fisher. This year they are Jack Reynolds and Steve Kiner. Reynolds is steady, consistent and never out of position. Kiner is more daring, sometimes getting himself where he shouldn't be but often getting in the other team's backfield and catching the quarterback for a big loss as he did five times on key plays against Alabama last year. Kiner was the SEC's Sophomore of the Year. Tennessee's monster man is going to be either Jim Mondelli, a 187-pound mini-monster, or the more celebrated Nick Showalter. Safety Bill Young, one of the best in the conference, returns after sitting mil 1967 with a shoulder injury. Experienced Jimmy Weatherford will play one of the defensive halfback positions, and Tim Priest, a sophomore who is a good tackier, the other. Up front is the usual able Tennessee line, led by Ends Neal McMeans and Jim McDonald and Tackle Dick Williams.
Despite the apparent strength on defense, Doug Dickey does enter a disclaimer that could prove to contain as much truth as it does preseason modesty. "We are not big on defense," says Dickey. "Georgia, Ole Miss and UCLA will all be bigger, and when you play our schedule, this can be particularly wearing."
Normally a team that has just lost quarterbacks such as Dewey Warren and Charlie Fulton would have cause for worry, but few teams have a Bubba Wyche for No. 3. Wyche is the baby-faced, almost roly-poly fellow who came off the bench to beat both Georgia Tech and Alabama when Warren and Fulton were hurt last year. He is a competent passer and very good runner, and his passing looked sharper than usual in the spring game. Wyche, who completed nine of 15 in that game, will be backed up by sophomore Bobby Scott, who hit on 10 of 14 for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Both Wyche and Scott are especially good on the option.
The Vols will run more this year, and not just because their passer is gone. Fullback Richard Pickens, who gained almost 600 yards, is a good blocker as well, which should help Tailback Mike Jones, who has been switched over from the secondary. The offensive line is going to miss Johnson and All-SEC Tackle John Boynton, though sophomore Chip Kell may be good enough to give Tennessee another All-America center before he is through. All-conference Guard Charles Rosenfelder is back, as is Tight End Ken DeLong, a superior blocker and pass catcher.
Tennessee cannot be favored to successfully defend its SEC championship, but with four of its five toughest games at home, where it can introduce its guests to the wonders of Knoxville crowds and Tartan Turf, the Vols are far from long shots.