Tennessee doesn't win the National Championship without...
Deon Grant 98 Florida
In another fun side conversation, I think the two games featured today are the two best performances by a John Chavis defense at Tennessee. This one is certainly more famous, and features one of the most athletic individual plays ever made by a Tennessee defender. Tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter and Florida already four turnovers in the hole, the Gators still kept coming and had just converted 3rd and 7 to midfield. When Jesse Palmer let this ball fly, the guy sitting next to me in Z11 goes, "Interception!", and I distinctly remember thinking he was out of his mind. Because Derrick Edmonds is beat. He's beat with no one behind him, and this is field goal range at best and a touchdown at worst. Because there's no way Deon Grant can close that much distance in time and make any sort of play on the ball. But I should've known better. Because on this night, there was no way our defense was going to let us down. The video is from the Phillip Fulmer show, so it lacks John Ward's original call of "A STERLING interception," but he was, as usual, exactly right.
Peerless Price 98 Mississippi State
What happens when you start buying into destiny and all that is you never really think you're going to lose a game like this, and then fourteen years later you've forgotten how close we came and how very important this play was. Mississippi State had 87 yards of offense, a defensive touchdown, a punt ran back for a score, and a 14-10 lead on the Vols with less than seven minutes to play. On the previous play, Tee Martin and Travis Stephens got lucky that an MSU defender didn't blow up the handoff and cause a fumble. And the Vols made them pay immediately: in a preview of coming attractions, it's Martin to Price for a critical touchdown. The degree of difficulty is actually higher here than the Fiesta Bowl: MSU's defense again pressing everybody up, Tee Martin paying the price in the pocket, and Peerless having to contend with better coverage and less room. And the result is just a thing of beauty - Tee Martin is one of the more underappreciated deep ball throwers at this university, and this pass is just absolutely perfect. So is Price's footwork to stay in bounds. On the next offensive snap, MSU fumbled, and on the next offensive snap, it was 24-14 and we were headed to Tempe.