The best and most intense part of what happened last week took 37 minutes and 30 seconds. From the snap of the ball on Ethan Wolf’s touchdown to Josh Dobbs crossing the plane on the Vols’ final score, 37:30 changed the narrative of Butch Jones, Mike DeBord, Josh Dobbs, the Florida streak, and Team 120’s season. It was the most memorable win in 15 years and one of the wildest rides in Neyland history.
And then today Tennessee bottled most of that drama and intensity, shook it up real good, and watched it explode in about eight seconds.
I love roller coasters as a metaphor and hate them in real life. Other than for the things they do to my digestive system, my primary thought is why a person would want to volunteer for a high-intensity dose of something life is already good enough at doing to you. And this dadgum football team is like the Thunderhead or Lightning Rod or whatever the best/worst one is at Dollywood these days, which I wouldn’t know because the Thunder Express was enough for me long ago.
Getting down 14-0 to Virginia Tech in the most-attended football game in human history is now the fourth-most stressful thing that’s happened to Team 120 and we’ve only played five games. Unleashing the subsequent 31-0 run on what is so far a Top 10 national defense is so far down the list of memorable moments this year it almost doesn’t register anymore.
Most of today felt like paying what was due for having had too much fun on this ride so far. You typically don’t beat a team like Georgia when you turn the ball over three times, especially when one of them comes with Jalen Hurd literally walking into the end zone. Then Hurd apparently got hurt, becoming the fourth of our very best players to be lost for significant action, and again, we’ve only played five games.
But Tennessee kept playing, its backups and Georgia’s freshmen battling back and forth until Derek Barnett became the most dominant player on the field for the second week in a row, making the small difference it looked like would be the difference. And then Tennessee’s senior corner made a freshman mistake, in part because perhaps he believed Georgia’s freshman quarterback would never throw it that far that well. He was wrong. And I fear that Jim Chaney/Jacob Eason combo is going to make lots of defenses wrong for the next two years.
So the story of this game was going to be two really frustrating plays wrapped around another slow start and backups being exposed, etc. The season was going to become about tense week-to-week scoreboard watching, trying to find a way to still win the East with a loss to Georgia and games at Texas A&M and vs Alabama coming up. I was lamenting Georgia’s celebration penalty and offsides and Evan Berry’s kick return being almost-but-not-quite enough to get us a game-tying field goal.
And then in about eight seconds #15 looked like Carl Pickens out there, and I started screaming, “HE CAUGHT IT!” and still haven’t stopped.
For the last seven days I’ve tried and failed to find a comparison for that 37:30 against Florida. I’ve just never seen anything like it. And we had to wait one whole week to use that phrase with a straight face again, or at least we will as soon as we stop smiling.
By the way, anyone including me who picks anything other than a one-score game in this match-up next year is getting banned from this blog. The last five years have given us:
- Three Tennessee turnovers in the last six minutes in a 51-44 Georgia win in 2012
- Pig Howard at the goal line in overtime in 2013
- Justin Worley and Jalen Hurd fumbling in the end zone with four minutes left in 2014
- Tennessee racing back from down 24-3 last year in what used to be the gold medalist of Butch Jones Memories at Tennessee and is now struggling to stay on the podium
- Today’s madness
So here we are: Florida streak broken, first win in Athens in ten years, first road win over a ranked team in ten years, first consecutive wins over ranked teams since 1999, and yep, first 5-0 start since 1998.
I wouldn’t worry about that 1998 business just yet. I do know this season has had as many twists and turns as just about any year since then and we’ve still only played five games. But the Vols are exactly where they wanted to be through five games: tiebreakers owned over the two biggest threats in this division, undefeated heading to a pair of games that will decide just how steep the track will be in the second half of the season.
The challenges will only get bigger. But through ups and downs and feeling like you’re going to throw up and having more fun than you’ve had in years, Team 120 has lived the greatest truth of the roller coaster: it keeps moving forward. Just the way the Vols have done, brick by brick, for four years under Butch Jones.
Yep. Us too, Coach. Us too.