A final look back at the 2007 season. Up today: The Florida Gators.
So the opening game of the season against Cal had been a total bummer, and the second had been more of the same with a degree of improvement in the second half. Neither of those games had really mattered in the grand scheme of things, though. No, what mattered was the SEC, and the SEC season was about to begin, as it almost always does for Tennessee, with a game against the Gators.
Tennessee was out to reclaim the cheese it had lost by one point to eventual national champion Florida the prior year in Neyland Stadium. The Vols looked like they might actually be ready, too. Running back Arian Foster was looking good, punter Britton Colquitt was finally at 100%, and our defense (Xavier Mitchell, at least) was feeling confident enough to tell Florida sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow to “bring it.”
That last part, while a nice sentiment, maaaay not have been the brightest pre-game comment ever made because our defense didn't exactly have a resume that anyone, much less Tim Tebow, feared. Demonte Bolden and Dan Williams had played barely well enough to keep their starting spots, and receiver Brent Vinson was being moved to the secondary to shore up weaknesses there. Tebow was going to bring it; the question was whether our defense could do anything about "it."
Really, neither team had a particularly good defense, and it was just a question of which offense would maximize its advantage. For Tennessee, Vol fans weren’t concerned that “Bad Erik” might make an appearance (he’d been buried in the LSU end zone along with the corpse of The Season of Which We Do Not Speak in a secret ceremonial cleansing in the summer of 2006), they were aware of the possibility that “Injured Erik” might show, what with the broken pinky and all. For the Gators, the first couple of games seemed to suggest that Tebow would have his way with the Vol defense unless he ran into Rico McCoy, in which case the collision would spawn new galaxies.
Special teams was a real wild card for both teams, but please, please, for the sake of all that is Good and Orange, don’t punt to Brandon James, the Florida speedster with moves to boot who had returned a punt for a touchdown in last year’s game but had it called back due to a penalty. You still remember that and DeSean Jackson's return for a TD at Cal, right? Okay, then.
Sigh. Pictures first, and note the comically inept first two drives:
Larger version. (Still ugly).
Disgrace. Yeah. That first one? We went nowhere and then punted directly to Brandon James, who ran it back 83 yards for a touchdown. Nice.
Uh-huh. The second drive? That’d be Ainge completely squandering this . . .
. . . by doing this in the red zone:
It really never got any better. Florida outpaced the Vols by scoring three TDs to two FGs for most of the rest of the first half. There was the briefest, faintest glimmer of hope when Tennessee scored a touchdown just before halftime to cut the lead to 28-13 and when the WooBerry Bush interrupted Gary Danielson’s embarrassing fawning over the Tighty Mebow first thing in the second half:
Humiliation. That play, however, was almost immediately followed by Injured Erik and Foster teaming up on this wonder:
Handing off backwards because of a broken pinky will do that, I guess. Tennessee’s final five offensive possessions?
- 7 yards and a punt;
- 28 yards and an over-on-downs;
- 5 yards and a punt;
- 9 yards and an interception;
- 8 yards and a merciful expiration of time.
Embarrassment. Well, then. At least the defense stepped up in the second half like they did against Southern Miss, right? Um . . . no. While we were busy mostly three-and-outing, Florida was having a bon fire in the end zone:
- 99 yards and a TD;
- 53 yards and a TD;
- 66 yards and a FG (woo!);
- 29 yards and a TD.
With ten minutes left to play and a 49-20 lead, Florida was still calling time outs and throwing bombs with its starters. Even worse, Florida special teams player Derek Baldry later told the media that an unnamed Tennessee player not only quit trying, but told his opponent he was giving up.
Except for Coker’s 74-yard kickoff return and Eric Berry’s interception return for a touchdown (and the waterboy’s performance, I guess), it was complete and utter dishumiliarrassment. Tennessee had gained 26 yards rushing against Florida. In two years. Two of the Top 5 plays on the following Sunday’s Phillip Fulmer Show were a field goal and a pass for a first down. Now that's bad.
Yes, it was all-Florida, all-the-time, and I’m not just talking about the game, either. The CBS broadcast fawned over Florida for four full hours. Tennessee native and fan Kenny Chesney was shown wearing a Gator helmet and singing on stage with Tim Tebow. Verne Lundquist mentioned Florida blog Every Day Should Be Saturday on air (okay, this was a good thing), and Doug Flutie, during the USC-Nebraska game later that day couldn’t even remember which team Florida had pounded to pulp. And for a little salt on the seeping wound, when I finally turned off the game, my own TiVo was auto-recording the Florida Gator Postgame show. Et tu, TiVo?
Oh, and when words were no longer sufficient, we had Tony Joiner, PDA:
As you might expect, post-game on Rocky Top was sheer hysteria. Oh, no! We’ve become South Carolina! Forget Arkansas State next week, we need to get ready for Georgia! Now!
And, of course, Vol fans had several words for the coaching staff, most of the phrases beginning with a four-letter word and ending with “Fulmer.” The refrain – The Game Has Passed Coach Fulmer By – was familiar, but there was something new about it: Formerly staunch defenders of Fulmer were peering over the fence and noting the color of the grass on the other side. Gary Danielson had referred to the Volunteer offense as “nip and tuck” during the game, and the same phrase also seemed an apt description of what many Vol fans were clamoring for on Monday morning: surgery to remove signs of aging from the face of the Tennessee football program.
But we still had at least nine more games. If we were going to avoid another SOWWDNS, we were going to have to race through the five stages of grief:
1. Denial. That didn't just happen. . . . We didn't just get completely and utterly embarrassed by a sophomore QB, a sophomore wide receiver, a third-year BCS conference coach (for the third time in a row), and a defense replacing nine of 11 starters. And we didn't just lose to our biggest rival 11 out of the last 15 tries. . . .
2. Anger. . . . ESPN did this to Tennessee on purpose, and you just know they're laughing in the halls in Bristol! And we would have won that game in 2000 if the STUPID REFS wouldn't have given that TOUCHDOWN to JABAR GAFFNEY! And WHAT'S UP WITH THAT ZOOK GUY STEALING OUR PLAYS IN 1991? DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON SPURRIER. . . .
3. Bargaining. . . . Okay, God. . . . If we could just have, say, one more national championship this decade, then we could die happy. . . . At least a simple SEC championship, okay? Do this for us, and . . . [w]e'll tithe 10% of our concessions revenue. We'll say our prayers and give to the poor and eat whole grain bread. Just one more. Soon. Please.
4. Depression. Never mind. It really doesn't matter anymore anyway. Go ahead and take us now. Or not. Whatever. We really don't care whether we ever win another championship on any level in any sport. We only want to sleep. Wake us up when the pain is gone. Or not. Whatever. . . .
5. Acceptance. Okay, Vol fans. You know what? We've lost to Florida. Bad. And we've lost to Cal. We're beginning the season 1-2. But the Cal loss doesn't matter half a lick because it's not the SEC, and the Florida game is just one SEC loss, and it was our toughest in-conference game. . . . Get your head up because there's a lot of season left, and we can turn this thing around. We've done it before.
Well. Now that that was over, we could focus on the remaining games. Arkansas State up next.