Stealing the show: Arkansas

Reviewing the 2007 season. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to have a new coach next year.

Pre-game

The Vols were in the lead in the SEC East with only three games to play, but with Arkansas coming to town, it was all Darren McFadden all the time. One-a them scary good players, McFadden had just put up 321 yards against Steve Spurrier, and he and teammate Felix Jones had combined for 487, numbers that coach Fulmer characterized as "unbelievable." McFadden was so adored by college football fans – not just folks wearing plastic pig snouts over their foreheads – that he could have eaten a live kitten at the 50 yard line, and PETA would have considered it “cute.”

The hype was warranted, though, and that was the problem. Arkansas had the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense in the nation, and they’d be going up against Tennessee’s rushing defense, which was ranked . . . not second. Or twelfth or twentieth. Okay, fine. It was 74th. Happy?

To make matters even worse, Tennessee wasn’t really out of the post-Alabama tailspin despite averting disaster against Steve Spurrier and giving Louisiana-Lafayette body blows with a Manhattan phone book. Former players felt compelled to take out a full page ad in the local paper supporting coach Fulmer, somebody had apparently thrown drunk girls through Josh McNeil’s window, and despite thousands of pending Facebook friend requests to Clint Stoerner, Vol fans’ memories of the Hogs were largely made up of nightmare season-changers in 1992, 1999, and 2006.

But . . . if we were trying to pull out of a tailspin, Arkansas was nosediving with ejection buttons disabled and jets at open-throttle. I mean really, how bad is it when you’re not only booed by your own fans at home games, but when those fans travel to away games just so they can rent a plane to drag a derogatory banner over the stadium? Quite bad, I’d venture.

So yeah, the Arkansas program was in disarray, and maybe their stats weren’t quite as good as they looked. After the Great Math Wars of 2007, hooper nuker concluded that, surprise, we had about an even shot at beating the Razorbacks. And oh, by the way, Casey Dick was under center, so we could probably focus exclusively on McFadden. Hey, it’d been 22 years since we’d derailed a Heisman campaign. It was time to do it again, right?

The game

Right:

Full screen version.

The plan -- to run the ball, milk the clock, and pray for defense – was executed to perfection. That first drive consisted of nearly two times more pass plays than run plays, but it ate five minutes and ended with seven points for the Vols.  It also featured a tone-setter on 4th and 1 at the 46. The offensive line was so juiced by the decision to go for it, it rewarded Fulmer by packing the entire defensive line into a moving van and relocating it a full three yards down the field.

Tennessee then rolled the dice by kicking off directly to Jones and immediately regretted it, as Jones sped his way around the pursuit to the Tennessee 34. But wonder of wonders, Tennessee then found the defense it had misplaced after the Georgia game. Despite the fact that Arkansas' second drive started within sniffing distance of the goal line, the defense held the Hogs to a field goal. It would be Arkansas' best drive of the half and the only one that featured a first down.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tennessee's Dennis Rogan kept up with the Joneses:

One Daniel Lincoln field goal later, the Vols were up 10-3.

Tennessee then wisely took to squibbing all subsequent kickoffs, and the remainder of Arkansas' first half drives resulted in the following:

  • Twenty-nine yards
  • Zero first downs
  • One interception

Meanwhile, Tennessee gained another 119 yards (53 by the three-headed running back monster Lenarianario Crardester), ten points, and seven first downs. They executed first half drives of 4:45, 7:15 (!), and 5:32, and by the end of the half, the Volunteers had possessed the ball for 21 minutes to Arkansas' nine.

After the break, Tennessee's offense achieved little more than a low calorie diet of clock (with one particularly notable exception – see below), but the defense was superb. Arkansas' second half drives:

  • Seven yards and a punt
  • 46 yards and a field goal
  • 61 yards and a failed fourth-down conversion
  • Minus 18 yards and a punt
  • Touchdown
  • Interception returned for a touchdown
  • Interception returned 61 yards

Overall, it was an extraordinary game for the Vols. McFadden and Jones were running into walls all day:

Meanwhile, Casey Dick was getting to know Eric Berry and Jerod Mayo . . .

. . . and our own running backs were doing this:

McFadden and the Razorbacks had brought the national spotlight to Knoxville, and the Vols had completely stolen the show.

Post-game

The Vols had successfully wrestled with the stick until it had pulled out of the tailspin, regained control, and pointed the nose back toward the goal. There was still some turbulence ahead, but Tennessee fans were suddenly flooding eBay, bidding on tickets to the SEC Championship Game.

After all, we only had Vanderbilt and Kentucky left, and we’d beaten them so many times that representing the SEC East in the championship was now a forgone conclusion, right?

Right?

Vanderbilt, up next.

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