We don't like to talk about the 2005 season. Well, the 2005 season apart from this game. And for good reason. When it happened, it was the worst Tennessee season in 17 years. The offense was a mess. The special teams was a mess. The defense? Well the defense was worth talking about.
If you want to look at a unit that got put in nothing but bad situations and still excelled, you'll have a hard time finding one better than the 2005 Tennessee defense. They finished 19th in the country in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. When you see a team that's always behind, you expect them to give up a lot on the ground, as the leading team will try to grind out yards and shorten the game. Not in 2005. The Tennessee run defense was 2nd in the nation.
The Vols played eleven games that year, and in just five of them did they give up more than one offensive touchdown: they gave up two against LSU, two against Georgia, two against South Carolina, three against Notre Dame, and four against Vanderbilt. To put that in perspective, consider the 2012 Alabama defense. In 13 games, they gave up two touchdowns six times. Granted, Notre Dame and Michigan put up garbage time scores, but even with those cut out, the 2012 Tide gave up two to Ole Miss, two to LSU, three to Georgia, and four to Texas A&M. Sound familiar?
And make no mistake that the 2005 Vols defense was consistently put in worse situations than the 2012 Alabama defense. Of the five teams that saw the end zone twice or more against the Tennessee defense, three (LSU, South Carolina, and Notre Dame) benefitted from touchdown drives of less than 30 yards.
Of course, the point totals are still unflattering for what looked a strong unit. Even if the defense takes the blame for allowing touchdowns when the opposition starts in the red zone (which, to at least some degree, is fair), the causal scoreboard-watcher will see that they gave up 27 points to LSU, 27 to Georgia, 28 to Vanderbilt, and 41 to Notre Dame. That's five touchdowns for the Irish. But what the causal scoreboard-watcher didn't see is that LSU had an interception returned for touchdown, Georgia had a punt returned for a touchdown, and Notre Dame had both.
Of the five teams all season that scored two or more touchdowns on Tennessee, three of them found the end zone at least once without their offense on the field. In eleven games, only South Carolina and Vanderbilt scored two or more touchdowns without their defense and special teams getting in on the action. And South Carolina's first of two touchdowns was a 19-yard drive.
In eleven games, only three teams were able to engineer two touchdown drives of more than 30 yards against the Tennessee defense. Notre Dame did it twice. Georgia did it twice. Vanderbilt did it four times. That's it. Florida did it once. LSU did it once. Alabama and Kentucky never found the end zone at all.
The 2005 team lost plenty of games, and they'll never be remembered in a positive light. But remember that defense, which toiled away in the vain hopes that the other units would come around, that allowing just two touchdowns in Athens, or one touchdown in Gainesville, or six points in Tuscaloosa would be enough for a win. They weren't, but it's through no fault of this bunch. Forget the offensive ineptitude. Forget the special teams disaster. But remember the defense.