The final bracket and all of this year's plays are after the jump.
Yeehaw for Penalties
Big Dan Got Mad Ups
Big Dan Got Mad Ups
Big Dan Got Mad Ups
Spurrier's Incontinence, Part II
Reynolds Makes Sure UL-Laf
That Play Again
That Play Again
At stake: Hey, it's Florida. They're always the chief obstacle standing between Tennessee and a chance at an SEC Championship. Two weeks earlier, the Vols had been beaten pretty severely at Cal, and losing two of the first three games of the season would not be good.
In-game context: Florida stormed out of the gate with a punt return for a touchdown and then proceeded to Tebow Tebow Tebow its way to a 28-13 halftime lead that would have been 28-6 if not for an Erik Ainge pass to Chris Brown for a touchdown with 25 seconds left in the half. So much for momentum, though, as Florida picked up right where it left off after the break, driving on the Vols at will and earning Tim Tebow comparisons to Superman. And then, Gary Danielson laus interruptus.
Impact: Eh. On our next possession, a botched handoff between Ainge and Arian Foster resulted in a fumble that a Florida defender picked up and returned for a touchdown, and in the end we were completely dishumiliarrassed. Still, Berry Woo!
This one needs a nickname, folks.
At stake: The Vols had mostly recovered from their 1-2 start to the season, and despite another bad loss to Alabama, they'd beaten both Georgia and Arkansas handily and found themselves in the driver's seat for the SEC East. Only Vanderbilt and Kentucky stood in their way.
In-game context: After only four series, Tennessee led Vanderbilt in yards 122-17, but due to some horrible kicking from Daniel Lincoln (he missed an extra point and a field goal), we led only 6-0. Vanderbilt then drove 78 yards in 9:02 and took the lead 7-6. Lincoln did manage to hit one field goal before the half, but Vandy was clicking and went into the locker room at halftime up 17-9. Immediately after the break, the Commodores went up 24-9, and the stage was set. Thanks in part to a roughing the kicker penalty, Tennessee finally found some momentum, ripping off a touchdown drive and an extra point and another TD. The two-point attempt after the second touchdown failed, though, and the score was Vandy 24, Tennessee 22. The defense pulled off a three-and-out, and the 'Dores had to punt with about six minutes remaining. Enter Dennis Rogan:
Apologies for the audio-synch problem with this one. Will have to fix later.
Impact: Rogan's fantastic return set the Vols up to win the game. Ainge and the offense drove 17 yards, and Lincoln hit a 33-yard field goal to put the Vols up by one. The defense held, and the Vols survived. They'd head to Kentucky the next week to play for the right to represent the East in the SEC Championship.
At stake: Despite Tennessee's own catastrophes, we found ourselves playing for the opportunity to represent the East in the SEC Championship due in part to our own efforts (great wins over Georgia and Arkansas) and in part to the disasters suffered by others in the hunt. Win this one, and we were off to Atlanta.
In-game context: The Tennessee-Kentucky games boils down easy in a way, yet words can't really convey the right mood. Suffice it to say for these purposes that the first half belonged to the Vols, the second half belonged to the Wildcats, and the first, second, third, and fourth overtimes belonged to both, right up until the time one of two deserving teams finally put an end to the madness:
Impact: Tennessee went to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta the next week and, with apologies to Ohio State, gave eventual national champion LSU its last true test of the season.
At stake: Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were coming off a 487 yard performance against Steve Spurrier the prior week, and the only real highlight of the Vols' season so far -- a win against Georgia -- appeared to be an anomaly. The question of the week seemed to center on just how badly McFadden and Jones were going to outshine Tennessee's running backs.
In-game context: But Tennessee's defense and its three-headed running back monster, Lenarianario Crardester, stole the show. The score was 20-3 at the half, and with its first drive of the second half, Arian Foster put the thing away. It was wildly entertaining, and the ref who created a face-shaped divot on the sideline while trying to keep up with Foster was just icing.
Impact: The Hogs would never get close, and this victory for the Vols probably gave them the confidence they needed to win out on their way to the SEC Championship Game.
At stake: Hmm. See the Kentucky Denouement. A trip to the SECCG and a shot at a BCS bowl or a streak-busting loss to Kentucky, a trip to a bowl named after a fruit or a chicken, and off-season discussion of the temperature of things to sit on.
In-game context: As we said earlier, this game was the Vols', at least in the first half. Then we rolled out the old prevent late in the second, and Kentucky tied it (and almost won in regulation). Gerald Jones figured prominently in most of the overtimes for the Vols, beginning with this gem:
Impact: From there, Jones went on to get a remarkable first down, a block for a touchdown, and a decoy for a touchdown, and Tennessee earned a trip to the SEC Championship Game.
At stake: Um, again, see the See Arian Run, See Ref Fall set up. (It's the same as the Kentucky link above.) The twist here is that not only were our running backs motivated to outshine Messers. McFadden and Jones, but our defense was motivated to stop 'em. Surely, stopping Humanity Advanced would be a futile effort, right?
In-game context: No, and once we shut down the running backs and forced the Hogs into a throwing game, things got really fun. And argh, I just spent fifteen minutes writing about the wrong Berry interception. Well, that will happen with Berry. No, this isn't the Hail Mary at the end of the half, this is the salt-in-the-wound one at the end of the game, pretty much after everything had already been decided.
Impact: It was a fitting end to the game. Can't run. Can't throw. Can't hide. And Tennessee's riding the high all the way to Atlanta.
At stake: Tennessee had lost two of its first three games. We were then thumper in the Georgia game and thumpee in the Alabama game. Against Steve Spurrier, we decided to consolidate things a bit and play both parts in one game.
In-game context: Yikes, this was a frightening game. Thumper finished the first half up 21-0. Thumpee then somehow found itself down 24-21 with only two minutes left in the game. After a nice 37-yard kickoff return by LaMarcus Coker, Erik Ainge led the offense to the Spurrier 26 and then gave up a nine yard sack, almost losing possession of the ball in the process. After an incompletion on third and ten, Daniel Lincoln set up for a 43-yard field goal with nine seconds left:
Impact: Sheesh, Daniel. Yes, Tennessee tied the game, and then Lincoln won the game in OT by hitting his field goal and watching his Gamecock counterpart miss his.
At stake: One more time, this time with feeling: McFadden? Jones? No! Foster, Berry, Mayo? Yes! Nobody was going to beat Arkansas, certainly not the same Vols who'd gotten drubbed by Cal, Florida, and Alabama, and gotten lucky against Steve Spurrier.
In-game context: Mayo's pick six occurred toward the end of the game, after it had pretty much been decided and just before Berry's salt-in-the-wound interception. Tennessee led 27-13 with just under 3:00 to play. Let's view it as the punch that set up the knockout.
Impact: Like I said, if the game was in doubt at all, it wasn't after Mayo thwarted another offensive possession and turned it into six points for the defense. Onward to the SECCG for the Vols.
At stake: A trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game against LSU.
In-game context: Let's recap. First half: Vols. Second half: 'Cats. First OT: tie. Second OT: disaster for the Vols, as the Vols get the ball first and Erik Ainge throws an interception, usually a death knell in college OT. No problemo, says Big Dan Williams:
Impact: Eric Berry begs to differ, sir Williams, as he was nearly decapitated without consequence due to some bizarre quirk in the OT rules. In any event, that play preserved the tie and the scoreless second OT and set the stage for the Vols to finally win in the 4th OT.
At stake: You know the story. Tennessee was not looking much like Tennessee, with the exception of the Georgia game, and was coming off a horrid loss to Alabama the week before. Would we go in the tank or would we, like so many times in seasons prior, put together a run?
In-game context: There's something I didn't mention in yesterday's Yeehaw for Penalties post, namely that Daniel Lincoln almost didn't have the second chance at a field goal, and it wasn't just the penalty on the prior play, and it wasn't just Ainge's sack and near fumble two plays prior to that. No, two plays prior to that, Arian Foster made 108,000+ lose control of their bladders. Fortunately, offensive lineman Jacques McClendon was their to . . . um . . . mop up:
Impact: Well, that's one way to gain a first down. Tennessee flirted with disaster that entire series, what with Ainge's sack/near fumble and the false start penalty negating Lincoln's miss. But, Lincoln hit the longer one and sent us to OT and the victory.
At stake: How many different ways can I say this? Apparently, no more, so Quote Me!
You know the story. Tennessee was not looking much like Tennessee, with the exception of the Georgia game, and was coming off a horrid loss to Alabama the week before. Would we go in the tank or would we, like so many times in seasons prior, put together a run?
In-game context: I've been saying that the Tennessee-Steve Spurrier game was one of those two-halves games, that the Vols owned the first and that the Gamecocks owned the second. That's true, mostly, but the first half actually started a bit sluggishly. That is, until this, with neither team having scored and the first quarter nearly over:
Impact: Tennessee scored a touchdown immediately after that, then two more in the second quarter while the defense held Spurrier scoreless. The second half? Never you mind about the second half. By the way, it's becoming increasingly clear that the only way to tackle Eric Berry is to facemask him.
At stake: Time for another shortcut:
One more time, this time with feeling: McFadden? Jones? No! Foster, Berry, Mayo? Yes! Nobody was going to beat Arkansas, certainly not the same Vols who'd gotten drubbed by Cal, Florida, and Alabama, and gotten lucky against Steve Spurrier.
In-game context: Despite the fact that there was no way Tennessee was going to beat Arkansas on this day, the Vols scored a touchdown on the first drive. They then made the mistake of kicking off directly to Felix Jones, who returned it 48 yards, but the defense held the Hogs to a field goal. Well, anything you can do . . .
Impact: Felix who? From there it was all Tennessee all day, and it set the stage for a run to Atlanta.
At stake: Nothing. It was Louisiana-LaFayette.
In-game context: It was already 17-0, Vols, in only the second quarter when two of the most remarkable things happened:
Impact: None, but it makes me happy. Few things are better than seeing a defensive lineman lumbering 70 yards toward the end zone after lucking into an interception. To see him juke a guy, well that there's something special.
At stake: Kicking the season off right. Losing to Cal in the first game was bad, but it wasn't the SEC and so really didn't matter much. No, it's always Florida (and/or sometimes Georgia) who's in our way.
In-game context: After Tennessee went nowhere on its opening drive, we made the mistake of punting directly to Florida's Brandon James, who returned the blasted thing 83 yards for a touchdown. Huh. Apparently, we don't learn. Anyway, . . . wait. Didn't I just type this? Yeah. Okay, well, anything you can do . . .
Impact: Love that run. Also love a couple of other things: both Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson obviously thought the play was over, but Lundquist had the good sense to just get back on the bus. Danielson started to throw Lundquist under said bus and then had the good sense to blame it on both of them. Anyway, this kickoff return should have done something for us, but Ainge was intercepted on the ensuing drive. Huh. Kind of like how the botched handoff to Foster squandered the momentum that the Berry INT-bow created.
At stake: A trip to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game.
In-game context: Shoot, we were all still looking for our seats when this happened on the very first play from scrimmage for either team:
Impact: That play triggered a really impressive first half by Tennessee, all of which we needed because Kentucky matched it point-for-point in the second. Four dramatic overtimes later, we emerged the survivor.
At stake: The SEC East. We'd lost to Florida. Again. Losing to Georgia, too, would be unthinkable, but it's exactly what most were thinking. Third in the East. Again. Maybe fourth.
In-game context: But huh. We made them punt, and then we scored a touchdown to go up by 7. And we made them punt again. And again. And then, on the first play of the second quarter, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe dialed up that play we'd used against Florida (I think) the year before:
Impact: Here's an idea: let's run that play more often than once per season. Erik Ainge whiffed on the block, Lucas Taylor's pass was not quite on the mark, and LaMarcus Coker almost ran out of bounds after he managed to catch the ball, and yet he was so wide open it worked. Again. Tennessee was well on its way to the SEC Championship Game. Yeah, we needed somebody to beat Florida, but we helped ourselves against Georgia, too, ruining what could have been, in hindsight, a shot at the national championship.