From the vault, a post-season analysis of last year's Tennessee-Alabama game:
To date, the Volunteer journey had taken them from lofty, pre-season fantasies of the Rose Bowl, quickly down to earth against UAB, and through the mire of a special teams debacle against Florida. They had squandered any momentum obtained from one of the greatest comeback victories in the history of college football against LSU by producing an efficient but boring win over Ole Miss. The penalty-plagued field position nightmare against Georgia for their second loss of the season to a team in their own division had placed them not so firmly at the edge of the precipice.
On the home front, the mood had not quite curdled, but it was beginning to sour. Tension between the Knoxville media and quarterback Rick Clausen was mounting, fullback Cory Anderson was being denied playing time because of his complaints about a lack of playing time, and Jason Allen was gone for the season.
Not exactly what we had planned. Instead of 5-0, the team was 3-2 and heading to Tuscaloosa to take on an archrival rising in the rankings with a bullet. The Crimson Tide would be the Vols' fourth opponent in six games that was ranked in the top 5 nationally, and they were looking for revenge against the neighborhood bully.
The game was really too close to call. John Pennington first picked the Vols, then changed his mind, primarily due to the wake up call the Tide received against Ole Miss the prior week and partly due to the fact that Vols hadn't played more than one good half of football in five games. John Harris of College Football News picked Alabama to win 21 to 20, but CFN itself picked UT to win 16-13. Subtract 10 from each score and switch the teams, and they'd have nailed it.
Adding to the always palpable hype this year was the fact that Phillip Fulmer had skipped the annual SEC Media Days in Alabama the prior season on the advice of his attorney and the personal jurisdiction implications of Pennoyer v. Neff and its progeny. Fulmer couldn't exactly phone this one in.
Imagine walking into a room full of people that detest you. Multiply that by a factor of 3,000, and you'll get a whiff of what Coach Fulmer will experience tomorrow when he jogs onto the field. Venom. Malice. Rancor.
Consider the table set.
The score should have been 17-6 (perhaps 17-3) or, at the worst, 9-6, UT. But unfortunately, it was worse than worst. If you think that's a logical impossibility, well, then you didn't see the game.
[The 1st half drive chart is over at the old site.]
Mistakes. Costly ones:
- Second drive, second and one at the `Bama nine yard line, and Gerald Riggs fumbles. Inside the ten and not even a measly field goal attempt.
- A muffed punt (identified as a fumble at mid-field on the 2nd half drive chart below) on `Bama's third drive of the second half at mid-field led to the Tide's first three points of the game:
[The 2nd half drive chart is over at the old site.]
And then, The Drive, in the words of GoVolsXtra's Mike Griffith:
On first down at the 3, tight end Justin Reed raised out of his stance early. The penalty led to a spot at the 9, still first down.
Arian Foster was dropped a yard behind the line of scrimmage on the next play, setting up a second-and-goal.
Rick Clausen, scrambling right, appeared to have enough room to run close to the end zone, if not in it. Instead, Clausen chose to throw the ball away - from beyond the line of scrimmage - and UT was penalized another 5 yards and a loss of down.
Facing third-and-goal at the 15, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders called for a screen to fullback Cory Anderson. Anderson sprinted hard for the end zone, but Alabama linebacker Roman Harper got his helmet on the ball. Anderson fell forward as the ball squirted out of his hands and out of the back of the end zone, giving the Tide the ball back at the 20.
Meanwhile, left guard Rob Smith lay writhing on the ground with a rib contusion. The severity of the injury is not known.
"It was like a series of bad dreams,'' Sears said.
The UT defense finally buckled and allowed the Tide to drive 63 yards for the game-winning field goal with 13 seconds to play.
Gerald Riggs suffering a season-ending injury was just the icing on the cake.
The fall out was not good. John Pennington said that Tennessee's Parade All-Americans looked like Tarzan and played like Jane. Fans started bailing out.
In the aftermath, Scout.com's Jeffrey Stewart penned the line of the season:
Defending Tennessee's offense is like encountering a drunk on a shooting spree with a high-powered rifle: you know he will do more damage accidentally than he will intentionally, and if you patiently keep your distance he will eventually shoot himself.
The Vols were now more than just mostly dead; they were really most sincerely dead.
And it would only get worse. Steve Spurrier was returning to Neyland Stadium the next week.