Since the Last Time We Spoke...
This series will post weekly on Fridays and we’re certainly past the reaction period of the Ole Miss vs Tennessee debacle that happened at Neyland last Friday, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the issue. We’ll always start with a snapshot of the Vols at the season’s current juncture so that we can compare their woes of the past to those of the present day.
Seeing the reactions of the fans last week, I was initially frightened to continue writing this series. If Tennessee fans will throw golf balls and mustard bottles at a superior team who fairly beats them, what on earth will they do to a blog writer who is actively going after their achilles? This predicament gave me pause at first, but then I took a look at my empty pantry and golf bag and realized that worst case scenario I’ll get a lifetime supply of condiments and Pro V1s should I proceed with the hit piece.
So away we go, this time to Baton Rouge in Derek Dooley’s first season with our neighbors to the east.
The next two games on this list come from the always comical Derrick Dooley era, where Tennessee was admittedly the victim of some sustained heartbreak that even they may not deserve. But…they do deserve it, right?
Similarly to the Alabama game in 2009, a struggling Tennessee team walked into Death Valley at 2-2 and with an upset on their mind. Looking to shake off a relatively embarrassing 2OT win against UAB in Neyland, Tennessee found themselves playing against a sleepwalking LSU team, who came into the game ranked in the top 15 and undefeated on the season to that point.
Credit to Tennessee, who managed to force four turnovers against LSU and keep themselves in the game until quite literally its final seconds. Tennessee led 14-10 late, when LSU got the ball on their own 31 with about 5 minutes left. With one more stop or turnover in a game where LSU struggled to convert, Tennessee would walk out of arguably the hardest environment in college football with Dooley’s first signature win as the Vols’ head coach.
What ensued was a long drive by the Tigers, highlighted at first by a 4th and 18 conversion to keep their hopes alive as they eventually made their way inside the Tennessee 10 yard line. All the sudden, LSU had one play from the Tennessee one yard line with one second left to either secure the victory or face defeat as time expired. In a panic, LSU snapped the ball over QB Jordan Jefferson’s head and apparently the game was over. Tennessee players rushed the field in jubilant celebration of an upset they had secured. The band was playing Rocky Top, Dooley was running towards the locker room, and LSU was in utter disbelief.
All the sudden, the hearts of Tennessee players and fans alike sunk. There was a flag on the play - illegal participation against the Vols. Upon a 2nd look, there were not twelve, but thirteen players (see below) on the field for that last goal line stand by Tennessee. All the players had to return to the sideline and gather themselves for one untimed down. At the goal line with zero seconds on the clock, LSU was gifted a 2nd chance which they did not waste, winning the game 16-14. LSU would finish the season 11-2 (this was the Cam Newton year, so nobody was beating Auburn) and Tennessee finished 6-7 yet again in Dooley’s first season.
So many factors stand out here. Tennessee had won the game. Probably two whole minutes had passed in between the fumbled snap and the ref announcing the penalty on Tennessee. If you think about that practically, that means hundreds of thousands of Volunteer fans were celebrating during that period before getting their hearts ripped out.
What stands out the most, though, is that LSU truly should have lost this game. Regardless if Tennessee had had 13 players on the field or not, LSU still would have fumbled the snap to deservedly lose after some egregious clock management woes. Only Derrick Dooley could find a way to top LSU’s shortcomings, though. Only he could be so oblivious to the fact that there were 13 of his own players on the field that he celebrated as if nothing had happened. SEC fans miss Derrick Dooley dearly (say that 5 times fast), and 2010’s LSU game stands out as a reason why.
In next weeks edition, we stay on the Dooley Train for yet another last second defeat...