The 1998 National Championship season is so full of great moments that it's easy to forget some of them. Watching the commemorative DVD of that season the other day I was reminded of one of them: Keeping the Auburn Tigers out of the end zone four times in a row from inside the one-yard line.
Tennessee appeared to mostly have the game in hand early. We'd gotten out to a 17-0 lead before Auburn hit a field goal, but with just under seven minutes remaining in the first half, they surprised Tee Martin with an unimpeded stunt up the middle, pushed him back, and made him fumble as he was sacked. The ball rolled and wobbled back toward the end zone before it was corralled by an Auburn defender at about the six-inch line.
There's a lot of discussion by the announcers about the pickle Terry Bowden was in. His first string QB was unavailable for most of this series because he was getting x-rays, and the backup was a true freshman with a broken wrist taking snaps from a true freshman center.
Whatever. The Tigers were six inches from the goal line with a fresh set of downs.
But this was Chief's 1998 defense, and even with Al Wilson reduced to cheering and coaching from the sidelines, it was mean and nasty and it didn't like to let opposing offenses move, much less get into the end zone.
So on first down, Auburn attempted your standard QB sneak, which let's be honest, is what you call when you only have to snap the ball and fall forward. What happened? We stuffed them for nothing.
On second down they try the same play again, because when a play has a success rate approaching 100%, it's not bound to fail twice in a row. What happened? They (reportedly; it's hard to tell) bobbled the snap and we nearly recovered the ball, but the officials ruled that the guy was down. The end result was that they went nowhere.
Well. Bowden called time out because, what the heck? They decide in the huddle that a running start might help, so when they line up and snap the ball, the QB turns to hand off to the running back, who follows a fullback toward the goal line. The fullback simply disappears, and the running back is immediately hit by about four Volunteers. The momentum carries the pile toward the end zone, but Tennessee is too strong and has too much quick help, and Auburn finds itself back at the drawing board on fourth down.
And they decide to go for it. What are the odds that you can't gain six inches in four tries, right?
But they not only don't make it, they lose two yards.
Raynoch Thompson blitzes and catches the running back in the backfield as soon as he gets the handoff, and the guy's down. Just. Like. That.
I love the camera cutting to the booth and capturing John Chavis just sitting there, elbows on the table showing absolutely no surprise whatsoever.