The middle of September of 2006 was not the best time of my life. Nothing really horrible, mind you, just not the most fun times I've ever had. My girlfriend dumped me, effectively isolating me from our group of mutual friends. The same week, my roommate's girlfriend dumped him, which did nothing but make matters worse. And to top it all off, said roommate's (ex-)girlfriend was my best friend's sister. College drama, we had it in spades. Like I said, nothing permanently scarring or anything, but a confluence of events that really put a damper on life for a few weeks.
My first instinct at such times is to retreat into sports, but Tennessee wasn't providing much help. By this point, the joy we all experienced against Cal was two weeks gone, replaced by a malaise formed from a heartbreaking 21-20 loss to Florida and the loss of two key defensive players for the season, one of whom was forced to wonder whether he'd ever have full use of his arm again.
So the first week of October, my Dad made the drive down to see how I was doing and watch the Georgia game from my dorm room. That didn't go well either, at least not early on. I honestly don't remember much about the first half, except the general impression that we weren't playing that badly, just not catching any breaks. We allowed a special teams touchdown (surprise, surprise) and a couple long passes that led to scores. The one I remember best was their fullback making a behind the back catch in tight coverage on a deep pass down the sideline. That's the kind of play that signals that it just isn't your night. Tennessee was in a 24-7 hole on the road against the #1 defense in the country, and my phone was buzzing with texts from Bulldogs fans.
Erik Ainge did orchestrate an 11-play, 65-yard drive to close the half and cut the deficit to 24-14 and provide a spark of hope, but it was still a two-score hole against a good defense in a hostile environment.
That spark grew quickly in the second half when Georgia threw a quick interception and Tennessee converted it into a touchdown that cut the lead to 24-21, but the Vols would still face a 27-24 deficit at the end of the third quarter.
That's when the magic started. Two plays into the 4th quarter, Ainge hit Robert Meachem for a touchdown that gave the Vols their first lead since 7-3. When Georgia got the ball back, Tennessee's defense forced them into a quick three-and-out. Except for the "out" part. With the Bulldogs pinned inside their own 10, the Vols' special teams got to Gordon Ely-Kelso and got themselves on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a blocked punt recovered in the end zone for a 38-27 lead.
The Bulldogs would answer with their second special teams touchdown of the day, a kickoff return that put the only black mark on a perfect fourth quarter. But the Tennessee offense was not allowing the red-clad crowd any thoughts of a comeback. Tennessee got the ball thrice more, orchestrating two touchdown drives--sandwiching a Georgia fumble--and then kneeling down to the Sanford Stadium turf to run the last seconds off a 27-point fourth quarter and a 51-33 victory.
I can tell you this from experience: when you need to snap out of a malaise, football or otherwise, not much beats a 27-point fourth quarter and a comeback win on the road.