A final look back at the 2008 season, quick-like, because pain should be fast.
Up today: The Clawfense isn't so hard . . . for Georgia's defense.
No one was pleased with the win against Northern Illinois, including many Vol fans in the blogosphere:
Beating a MAC school by four points? Downright embarrassing, says Volball. Coming to the "self-realization that we have to play well to beat MAC teams now," says Clay Travis. Right on. Meanwhile, Fulmer's Belly is doing the really smart thing and pretending it's a Vandy blog.
It seemed that everyone was in a foul mood. Later in the week, when Arian Foster conducted an entire interview session in pterodactyl, Vol fans who normally would have found it hilarious instead considered it yet another instance of Foster's poor timing.
Rumor had it that a rift between coaches Fulmer and Clawson was developing, with Fulmer yanking the reigns away from his offensive coordinator in the fourth quarter against the Huskies. Jackson the Mule was back to writing memos, and I called the Georgia game a potential tipping point for the Fulmer Era:
Digging an early grave and somehow climbing out of it by beating a heavily favored rival just before the rigor mortis sets in has become one of the defining characteristics of the Tennessee football program. This tendency toward reanimation when it appears that all is lost is the primary reason friends of The Papa have those nice peaks [big wins in a generally downward trend] to point to when defending their coach.
This year, the Georgia game presents more than just a crossroads for the season. It is a potential tipping point for the Fulmer Era. If Fulmer works his magic yet again this Saturday in Athens as a 13-point underdog to rival Georgia, he, his team, and The Argument will survive for another week. If he loses, though, he may lose more than an opportunity to turn this season around. He may in fact deprive his supporters of their last means of defending him from his critics.
This game actually featured two of the Best Plays of 2008, including the winner. Georgia mostly had its way with Tennessee in the first half, taking a 20-7 lead into the locker room. After the teams traded punts to open the second half, Georgia marched down the field and was threatening to put the game out of reach with another score. On third-and-goal at the Tennessee six, however, Matthew Stafford made the mistake of throwing in Eric Berry's direction, which resulted in the season's 7th-best play:
Tennessee actually scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession, bringing the Vols to within six points of tying the game. Unfortunately, Georgia extended its lead to 23-14 to kick off the fourth quarter, and Tennessee's offense promptly went three and out right after that.
With a nine point lead, the Bulldogs then set out to chew up the clock by handing the ball to Knowshon Moreno. Over and over and over again. Eric Berry decided to do something about that:
Moreno carried only one more time for minus one yard in this game, but the Bulldogs also had Caleb King, and they just started handing off to him instead. They scored one more field goal and finished the game 26-14.
The defense had finally had an off night, but Stephens had apparently seized the starting position at QB for good. The game didn't really feel like a complete and utter beatdown, but a peek at the numbers revealed the Bulldogs' dominance:
Georgia had the ball for 42:04 of the sixty minute game. Our offense was on the field for less than seven minutes in the second half.
They had 81 plays. We had 45.
They converted 9 of 17 third downs and had 10 rushing, 15 passing, and four penalty first downs. We had ten first downs total.
We rushed for one yard, probably because they knew which way we were going to run the ball 80% of the time. We gave them nearly 100 yards in penalties.
All that, plus Jackson was beating his head against a tree like he was stuck in a scene from The Happening, and I was pointing out that Georgia had 149 times more rushing yardage than we did.
At that point, Tennessee was 2-4 on the season and a pitiful 0-3 in the SEC. The loss to Georgia turned out not to be the actual tipping point for the Fulmer Era. That would come two or three games later.
Up next: Mississippi State.