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Things have changed since Neyland's time

By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
Oct. 1, 2002
Many years ago General Bob Neyland coached at Tennessee.
He led the Vols from 1936-40, then went off to the military and coached again from 1946-52. His teams were undefeated in 1938, 1939 and 1940. His 1939 team was the last in NCAA history to be unscored on for an entire season. Under Neyland's leadership Tennessee won the National Championship in 1951.
He's famous for all of the above but he is also well remembered for his philosophy of football. The way to win football games, he believed, was to run the ball again and again and again.
That was then and now is now. In today's football the simple truth is if you can't throw you can't go.
Need a little proof. Look at last Saturday's statistics.
The Volunteers are totally ignoring their heritage. In Saturday's game with Rutgers the Vols gained 94 yards rushing but 284 via the pass. Rutgers rushed for 121 yards but rolled up 151 throwing the ball. The totals for the two teams, 215 yards on the ground, 435 in the air.
In the Florida-Kentucky game the Gators rushed for 134 yards and threw for 375. Kentucky rushed for 88 and passed for 180. Combined the Gators and the Wildcats totaled 222 yards on the ground, 555 through the air.
More? O.K. Let's look at the Mississippi teams. Southern Mississippi 165 running and 138 passing. Army 141 and 252. Totals, 306 rushing, 390 passing.
As for Mississippi State in their futile effort to compete with LSU, the Bulldogs gained 88 yard rushing, LSU 256. In the air the Dogs totaled 161, LSU 52. Even in a game in which LSU was so dominant against the outmanned Bulldogs the totals still are 249 passing and 308 by throwing the ball and the Tigers only threw it 12 times while running it 53. MSU ran it 30 times but threw it 43.
In whatever football heaven General Neyland finds himself, he's frowning.
But the truth is that thanks to television, three yards and a cloud of dust football is out of style. TV is show business and high scoring and tossing the ball around is entertainment. The two bad things of which Neyland spoke, an interception and/or an incompletion are not considered bad any more. They are far more exciting than watching a team, pro or college, run the ball up the middle into a pile of humanity that now averages 300 pounds from one tackle to the other.
That, plain and simple, is why most team's most valuable player is the quarterback and why recruiting begins with finding one who can throw the ball. Where would Ole Miss be without Eli Manning? What about Florida and Rex Grossman? Look at the above statistics again. Florida gained 375 yards by the pass. Wouldn't you say that's the heart and soul of their offense.
As for Tennessee, compare Casey Clausen's one game total of 284 yards last Saturday with Tennessee's total of 491 yards in their entire 10-game 1952 season. Yes, 491 total compared to 2,318 by rushing that same year. In two games Clausen would have more passing yardage than the Vols had in 10 during Neyland's time.
During that 1952 campaign Neyland's team threw the ball only 85 times, an average of 8.5 per game. Last year Clausen and the Vols threw the ball 360 times in 12 games, an average of 30 per game.
The most passing touchdowns a Neyland coached team ever had in a full season was 11. The Vols last year had 22. That's how much football has changed.
It's not just Tennessee. Archie Manning threw 265 passes in 1969, his more productive year. He
completed 154 of them for 1,762 yards and nine touchdowns
Last year son Eli threw the ball 408 times, completed 259 for 2,948 yards and 31 touchdowns. That doesn't mean Eli is two or three times better than his dad. It means the philosophy of the game has changed because those nearly 60,000 fans at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the millions watching on television want action and in show biz you give the customer what he or she wants.
As for Mississippi State, their all-time leader is Tony Shell who in 1988 threw the ball 335 times and had 13 touchdowns. The touchdown leader by passing is Derrick Taite who in 1995 totaled 16 touchdown passes.
Will those records stand? Not a chance. It's only a matter of time.
When today's young fans get to the age of playing "Remember When" it won't be the same game we older timers remember today. Maybe that's a good thing. It certainly is the reason that football is America's pastime today.
I remember when it was baseball. That's how old I am.