Ole Miss occupies a curious spot in the list of opponents I've reviewed. I've looked at teams with whom we have a long, fierce history (Alabama); I've looked at teams with whom we haven't shared anything special (Memphis, South Carolina); and I've looked at some opponents in between those two extremes. What we haven't really seen yet, though, is a team with which we had a rather established history that has sort of fallen off over time. Ole Miss definitely falls in this bucket (Auburn would, too, but I paid Cam Newton to keep the Tigers off the schedule this year).
In my lifetime, the teams have played 11 mostly forgettable games. I was surprised to learn when looking at the historical results that UT and Ole Miss have actually met 63 times before! The Vols and Rebels played 49 of a possible 58 times from 1927 to 1985 (the Vols fielded no team in 1943), but the matchup has tailed off in my lifetime. We haven't seen them as often on our schedule, we've rarely been good at the same time, and the Vols almost always win (remember my mantra: rivalry fierceness is directly correlated with the number of losses). Given these facts, I haven't directed a lot of ire toward Ole Miss.
Hopefully last year wasn't the first step in changing that...The bad: I'd be willing to bet that long-time Vol fans would have a whopper to put on this list: the 1968 "Archie Who" disaster (for those of you not familiar, a 7-0 UT team went to Jackson to face a 5-3 Ole Miss squad and was curb stomped 38-0 by the elder Manning and Company). There certainly hasn't been anything as drastic in recent times. For me, there is only one game that could possibly go here...I'm not sure if it makes it better or worse, but it was really more of an embarrassment than a heartbreaker. I'm talking, of course, about the Dexter McCluster F%&! game (complete with a side of Prius and airguns)!
I don't know that I've ever seen a more dominating performance by one player than what we saw last year in Oxford. McCluster got the game started off with a TD only to see the Vols answer behind good Crompton. McCluster got loose again, but the Vols answered right back. McCluster then bounced off about 8 tacklers and scampered in one more time to put the Black Bears up 21-14 at halftime. The Vols closed within 21-17 to start the 2nd half and actually got the ball back on an interception with a chance to take the lead. They couldn't convert a 4th down, though, and the McFloodgates opened. McCluster's 71-yarder early in the 4th quarter sealed the deal and made everyone, including Eric Berry, look silly in the process. He finished the day with 324 all-purpose yards, 282 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns. If you're like me and look at everything in terms of fantasy football, McCluster would have had 56 points in this game. Yikes.
But hey...there are no other losses from the last 25 years to look back on!
The good: As I said in the intro, the majority of our wins against the Rebels have been totally lackluster in my mind. I can really only remember 3 of the wins at all. 2004 was exciting with freshman Erik Ainge leading us back from the brink of disaster in the 4th quarter against a subpar Ole Miss team. 2005 was similarly uninspiring and was a bit deceptive because we didn't yet understand how underachieving that team was going to be. The other one that sticks out a bit is 1996. It's not that I recall any specific Peyton-related awesomeness, I just remember that the game was in Memphis, we destroyed them, and I had to go to bed early because it was a Thursday night.
I'm hoping that somebody can chime in with some more worthy memories than what I just threw out there!
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