Reviewing the 2007 season. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to have a new coach next year.
One more game. Forget the righteous bummer, the dishumiliarrassment, and D.J. Hall’s Career Day. As inconceivable as it sounded (except to Corn from a Jar, who predicted the whole thing), the Vols would be headed to Atlanta if they could win just one more game.
Normally, the Kentucky game would be a formality, a foregone conclusion. After all, we’d beaten them 22 years in a row, and their fans viewed beating Tennessee as the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest or voyaging to Mars.
In keeping with the theme of the season, though, this wasn’t your typical Kentucky team. Yeah, we’d both lost to Florida, and they’d lost to Georgia, Mississippi State, and South Carolina, but we’d both beaten Arkansas, and they’d even beaten LSU. Their newfound notoriety in the crowded conference was directly traceable to the dramatic success of quarterback Andre Woodson, who was flourishing under the tutelage of former Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. Oh, and don’t forget. The Vols’ two best games -- Georgia and Arkansas -- had been at Neyland Stadium. Cal, Florida, and Alabama? Road games. Kentucky? Uh-huh. Lexington.
But there was still that whole 22 years thing, and Tennessee was only 60 minutes from Atlanta and an SEC Championship Game. Well, more like 283 minutes, but who’s counting?
Rolling. We were rolling. You were lucky if you found the channel before this happened:
That play ignited a truly impressive first half by Tennessee. Two drives later, the entire Kentucky defense completely misjudged Brad Cottam’s speed and gave up a 59-yard pass play that set up the Vols’ second touchdown in their first three drives. Heading into the locker room, Tennessee was up 24-7 and appeared to have the game in hand.
On their first drive of the second half, Kentucky marched down the field for an 80 yard touchdown. The teams then took turns doing nothing until four drives later when Demonte Bolden sacked Woodson and forced a fumble, which Wes Brown recovered. Five plays later, Tennessee extended the score to 31-14.
Then the real drama began to build. Kentucky added a 78-yard touchdown and brought the score to 31-21. Erik Ainge threw an interception. Kentucky punted. We turned it over on downs, and they scored a touchdown.
Protecting a 31-28 lead with 6:04 remaining, we went three yards in three plays and punted. No worries, because Ricardo Kemp picked a Woodson off on the next series, and we had another opportunity to milk the clock.
Yeah, well, we went three yards in three plays again and had to punt. Again.
With 3:32 left in the game and the Wildcats at their own nine yard line, the Tennessee defense shifted to the dreaded prevent in hopes that Kentucky would get no more than a game-tying field goal. Eighteen plays and 86 yards later, the defense was defending from the end zone as Kentucky had a first and goal from the five yard line with almost no time left. Tennessee’s offense would not have time to counter if the ‘Cats got a touchdown instead of a field goal.
Brent Vinson defended well on first down, almost intercepting Woodson pass, but committed a pass interference penalty on second down, moving Kentucky to the two yard line. Xavier Mitchell and Jerod Mayo then combined to hold Kentucky's Rafael Little to a one yard gain, and Woodson's third down pass to Kennan Burton fell incomplete. Field goal forced. Finally. On to overtime.
Kentucky opened the extra periods with a TD and an extra point. We needed to match it. Introducing Gerald Jones:
In the second overtime, disaster struck for the Vols. Tennessee went first, and Ainge threw an interception, usually a death knell in college OT. But disaster then visited Kentucky in the form of Big Dan Williams:
Whew. How often do you see a scoreless college overtime period? No penalty on that facemask on Eric Berry, by the way.
The third overtime featured Jones again for the Vols:
That was Austin Rogers with the TD, but it was Gerald Jones with one of the key TD-springing blocks. You gotta love wide receiver pancake blocks.
When Tennessee’s two-point conversion failed, Arian Foster threw the ball into the air in frustration and was called for penalty. Let’s see, no penalty for a Kentucky defender nearly decapitating Eric Berry, but a foul for that? Those were the rules, but Tennessee fans were not happy.
That was Quintin Hancock with the TD, but it was Gerald Jones who got him so wide open. Look closely. When Jones finished his route and turned and looked for Ainge, the Kentucky defender abandoned Hancock and double covered Jones.
Tennessee got its two-point conversion, and put the pressure on Kentucky. The ‘Cats scored a touchdown, but then finally, the denouement:
This game was entirely fitting in a season of ups and downs. We’d been fiddlin’ on the roof all year, at times peeling off masterful riffs and at times sliding down the steep pitch to a soul-crushing demise. But each time we found ourselves as low as we could go, we shook off the dust, re-climbed the ladder, set our feet, and struck the bow to see what would happen the next time.
Bring on LSU.