We are at a crossroads this season with the team coming off of back to back losses after what was shaping up to be a special season. With most of the goals now out of reach, we would do well to remember the most humiliating moment from The Season of Which We Do Not Speak and the fact that the pre-season goal for this team was to improve. If the team does not take Vanderbilt and Kentucky seriously, then there will be questions as to whether even the pre-season goal was met.
From the vault, as a reminder, last year's recap of the Tennessee-Vandy game:
Okay, I know this hurts, but we're almost done. Trust me.
Tennessee's 2005 victory over Memphis did little to quiet the stirrings on Rocky Top. Sure the special teams and wide receivers had begun to show some improvement, but the quarterback controversy was still alive and well even ten games into the season.
Fortunately, or so we all thought, the Vols were closing out the regular season against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. During prior painful seasons, Tennessee players and fans could always count on self-medication with Gold and Blue salve, and this season would surely be no different.
Or would it? The Rocky Top perspective had changed dramatically. Pre-season fantasies of whether the team could win out and make it to the Rose Bowl and the National Championship had given way to questions of strategy for next season. Should the team put the rest of this season at risk by playing quarterback Erik Ainge and getting him all of the game reps or should Clausen start so the team could win one more game and get to a bowl game thereby affording the new offensive coordinator another month of practice?
Such questions evidenced a wicked, nagging thought that fans were attempting to suppress: a win against Vanderbilt was not a given. After all, the Uh-Oh stat was alarming: the Commodores had scored 85 points in their last two games, and the Vols had scored a whopping total of 73 points in their last five games.
Still, the outlook was not completely dire, and Vol fans -- those that remained faithful anyway -- gathered for the last home game of the season to honor their seniors, including Jason Allen, whose season-ending injury against Georgia had dealt a blow to his NFL prospects, Gerald Riggs, who had suffered a season-ending injury against Alabama, and Jason Mitchell, who risked a shot at the NFL by playing the entire season with both a torn ACL and a torn MCL.
Vol fans were looking to put the bad news behind us. It was not meant to be.
[NOTE: The drive charts referenced below are up at the old site.]
The game was all Arian Foster, whose 223 yards were the most for a UT tailback since Travis Stephens' 226 against Florida in 2001.
Unfortunately, it was also Foster (and the o-line) who failed to convert on 4th down and inches on the third drive of the second half within three yards of the goal line, squandering excellent field position resulting from a 43-yard punt return by Jonathan Hefney.
Foster did get a TD on the next drive, but the failed conversion on the prior drive was the difference in the game. When faced with 4th and one on their own 24 with under five minutes to play and the team leading 24-21, Fulmer elected to punt rather than risk coming up short again.
The defense initially did its job and got the ball back for the offense, which should have meant that they could run out the clock with a first down or two. The offense sputtered again, however, gaining only five yards in three tries before having to punt again.
This time, the defense collapsed. Three plays and 63 yards later, Jay Cutler and the Vanderbilt Commodores had scored a touchdown and taken a 28-24 lead over the Volunteers with only 1:11 left to play.
Rick Clausen was out of magic, and although he drove the team 64 yards on nine plays, his pass on 4th and nine into the end zone was intercepted.
It was the End of the World as We Knew It.
First loss to Vandy in 22 years. First losing season in 17 years. First year without a bowl game in 16 years. Tennessee wasn't going to the Rose Bowl. Or a BCS Bowl. Or the Citrus, Outback, Music City, or Independence Bowls.
The Tennessee Volunteers were not going to the Alamo.
Reaction in the Tennessee blogosphere was not pretty:
Big Orange Michael is embarking on an off-season-long grief counseling session.
Dave from Opinari.net has a Christmas list for Volunteer fans everywhere and eloquently captures the frustration of the Vandy game and the 2005 season:
. . . .
Big Stupid Tommy picks a good time to post the email that's been circulating about the custody of the abused kid in Knoxville.
Great Smoky says we can't even get a seat on the Toilet Bowl:
Shots Across the Bow has some words about the 2005 team and Coach Fulmer:
He's got some other words, too.
. . . .
Meanwhile, Vandy fan Salem's Lots is gloating, sort of, and <s>the other</s> another Vandy fan, Scott Rushing, is remembering what he was doing -- learning cursive, waiting to see whether Darth Vader was really Luke Skywalker's father -- the last time the Commodores beat the Vols. Rushing has this to say:
Word came quickly that the players themselves were not happy either, and some were behaving quite badly:
Offensive lineman Albert Toeaina reportedly spit on a Jumbotron cameraman as he left the field. The cameraman, Scott Liston, told WBIR-TV's Steve Phillips on Sunday that Fulmer had called him to apologize for the incident.
John Pennington has more:
Two UT defensive players also popped off to Vandy (and former Knox Central) running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison as the teams made their way to the lockerrooms at halftime. Jackson-Garrison responded by pointing to the 21-14 lead on the Neyland Stadium scoreboard.
My guess? This was the first time that a Vandy player had been able to say "scoreboard" to a Tennessee player since the game clocks went from analog to digital.
Prior to the 4th and a foot at Vandy's 4, several of UT's offensive linemen were seen bobbing their heads and gesturing for the Vols to go for the first down. It was more than energy and enthusiasm... it was cocky. And as I noted earlier, it was misplaced cockiness since the O-Line could [sic] blow Vandy off the line of scrimmage.
Lastly, after the disappointing loss, the popping off, the mid-season "we're not a .500 football team" promises, the numerous Clausen quotes... in the end, only 5 people associated with the Vol team came out to speak to the media after the game: Phillip Fulmer (who gets paid to do it), John Chavis (good for him), and players Foster, Mahelona and Jason Mitchell (who had played all season on a torn ACL and a torn MCL).
It turned out that Toeaina actually spit on the ground, not on the cameraman. He was suspended for the next game, though, for inappropriate conduct, which apparently consisted of throwing his helmet after the loss, leaving it on the field, and yelling an expletive at the cameraman. He did apologize, saying that it was done out of anger and frustration.
Losing to Vanderbilt will do that to you.