Reviewing the 2007 season. Because those who don't learn from the past are doomed to have a new coach next year.
It had been a positively grueling season filled with emotional extremes on both ends of the spectrum. But there was one more game to play, and we knew from experience that losing the last game of the season had a tendency to put a stink on the whole thing regardless of what happened prior to that.
The money men had put Tennessee back in the Outback Bowl for the second year in a row, this time against a 9-3 Wisconsin team that had lost to Illinois, Penn State, and Ohio State but beaten Michigan. They'd finished fourth in the Big Ten.
The real problem wasn't Wisconsin, though. The real problem was . . . well, a bunch of stuff, really. Demonte' Bolden, Rico McCoy, and Lucas Taylor had all been suspended for sprained cerebrums, and Ryan Karl was injured. Distractions came in the form of post-season accolades or questions for Jerod Mayo, Arian Foster, Anthony Parker, and Britton Colquitt about the upcoming NFL draft.
The biggest distraction of all, though, concerned the offensive coaching staff. First, there were rumors of David Cutcliffe's impeding departure to Duke to take the head coaching job for the Blue Devils. Then there were whispers about Trooper Taylor interviewing with Baylor. When Cutcliffe officially announced he was in fact heading to Duke (and taking most of his offensive staff with him), the search for a replacement began in earnest. Fans like me were making the case for Trooper Taylor to be retained and promoted. After all, "the Taylors always leave a place better than the way they found it," (audio link). Alas, Taylor wasn't offered the OC position and ended up taking a co-offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma State.
So, yeah, there was a lot of stuff happening, and very little of it had to do with Wisconsin. Would we be ready for this bowl game, or would we wrap another decent season in thick layer of stink ?
The offense didn't get off to the best start, going three and out on its first drive. Fortunately, Eric Berry and DeAngelo Willingham were ready on defense:
On the next offensive series, Tennessee brandished the G-Gun and hit for six:
Wisconsin answered on their next drive, but QB Tyler Donovan probably wished he hadn't:
Wisky coach Bret Beilema was incensed. Okay, then. Just how are you supposed to tackle somebody presenting their head as the only possible target, huh? It's why they wear helmets.
Anyway, Ainge then caught fire and tossed TDs to Josh Briscoe and Brad Cottam, and the defensive players continued to take turns abusing Donovan. The Badgers did manage another touchdown late in the first half, and the teams went to the locker room with Tennessee on top 21-14.
A whole messapunts, a field goal by them, and a blocked field goal by us, and the Vols were holding on to a three point lead late. With under 10:00 left to play, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill ripped off a 50-yard run, and the Badgers looked like they were going to take the lead. But on 4th and 2 at the UT 10, Jerod Mayo put a stop to it:
Tennessee got no points on their next drive, but they were able to use almost four and a half minutes, leaving Wisky only 1:19 to get into game-tying field goal range from their own 12 yard line. The Badgers put together passes of 21, 10, and 13 yards, and tacked on another five for a penalty, but then Antonio Wardlow won the game for Tennessee:
I suppose we should have expected such an ending to a season so full of close calls. But the Vols did in the Outback Bowl what they'd been doing all season: throw off distractions, overcome adversity, and mostly win in the margins. Best of all, they did it with a young-ish team, most of whom would be back the following year. The following season would feature experienced players functioning in a system that, due to the offensive coaching turnover, would be devoid of its systemic predictability.
The 2007 Tennessee Volunteer football team gave its fans not only a solid season with a happy ending, but a legitimate optimism to get them through the long, hot summer and a swelling anticipation for the following autumn.