Back to Last Week’s ‘Bama Game
Let’s begin with a quick look back to last week at Bryant Denney Stadium for the latest edition of Nick Saban remains undefeated against Tennessee.
If we’re being honest, Tennessee looked pretty solid for three quarters on the road against the Tide. Their offense was humming, and I’d venture to say that if Hendon Hooker were wearing any other color than puke orange he’d be a really fun quarterback to watch every week.
However, it wasn’t yet in the cards for the Voluntears, who lost their 15th straight against Alabama. A Saban-coached Tide team simply won’t lose more than one game per season against a dramatically inferior opponent, and they finally were able to put Tennessee away for good in the 4th Quarter last week in a 52-24 victory.
The best part? Your average college football fan probably just scrolled by and saw the score as a complete beatdown without the context of how this game actually unfolded, so most people won’t even give Tennessee the credit they admittedly deserve for playing Bama so closely for most of this game. Whoops!
Let’s keep kicking Tennessee while they (and we) are down in this week’s loss recap. Today, we travel back almost eleven years ago to the 2010 Music City Bowl.
We jump to the postseason of Dooley’s first season for our next chapter, when the Volunteers took on North Carolina in one of the stranger endings to a game you will ever see. Lucky for us, Tennessee would end up suffering from the injustice to come in Nashville on that day.
Tennessee’s season in 2010 had largely been chalk, ending at 6-6 as they beat everyone they should have while losing handily to everyone ranked higher than they were (except for the game we recapped last week, of course). UNC came in at a superior 8-4, but the game was essentially between two even teams given the Heels’ weaker ACC schedule.
The game featured all of the back and forth scoring and momentum swings that you’d hope for in a B-list bowl game. The teams traded several scores, until finally Tennessee took a late 20-17 lead on a Tyler Bray touchdown pass. UNC failed to counter on the subsequent drive but would eventually get one more chance from their own twenty yard line with 30 seconds and zero time outs remaining.
On the first play of the drive, QB TJ Yates for the Heels completed a 26 yard pass along the sideline. There still would have been a decent chunk of ground to cover to enter field goal range, but on the tackle Tennessee committed one of the more egregious examples of targeting that you’ll ever see. The officials punished the Vols for the cheap shot, adding another 15 yards to the play and setting up UNC well into Tennessee territory.
We’ll fast forward to the game’s focal point, where the dwindling seconds followed almost a mirror image of the LSU game earlier in the season. Due to some remarkable clock management woes, UNC found themselves with too many men on the field as time struck zero from the Tennessee 18 yard line. The offense did get a snap off to spike it, but time had run out as the Tennessee sideline rushed onto the field in celebration of a bowl win.
Once again, you could hear the band playing Rocky Top. The lead official even announces at 2:21 that the game clock ran out and the game was over. A roar followed from the crowd as Coaches Derek Dooley and Butch Davis shook hands at midfield. Suddenly, like clockwork, the refs blew their whistles o announce that they are now reviewing the last play of the game - had UNC spiked the ball with any time left? But, weren’t they flagged on the play anyway?
What comes next (jump to 3:58 in the video) is one of the best deliveries of an official review in the history of college football. He begins by announcing that UNC did have more than 11 players on the field when the ball was snapped, to which the heavily orange crowd at LP Field reacted in a large cheer, thinking that the penalty alone would seal the victory. However, the official then continues his steady, yet suspenseful, delivery to inform everyone that the UNC offense did, in fact, spike the ball with exactly one second remaining, thus giving them another chance.
“Wouldn’t the penalty alone result in a clock runoff for a team with no timeouts?” One may ask. Yes, under today’s rules, but this particular bowl game carries historical significance in that it was the reason for an NCAA rule change during the following offseason. There’s even a wikipedia page dedicated to this obscure bowl game because of how it ended.
Of course, this article wouldn’t exist unless Tennessee lost the game, and that’s exactly what would end up happening. UNC tied the game on a last-second field goal to force overtime. The teams would trade touchdowns in the first overtime period, which also featured a double throat slash celebration from the always vocal Tennessee QB Tyler Bray. He would instantly fall victim to Karma for the taunt, beginning the 2nd overtime with an interception that would ultimately pave the way for UNC to win on a field goal, 30-27.
Above all, it just stands out how truly remarkable it was for Tennessee to have lost two games in the same season where the officials had initially announced the contest as over before deciding to hit the booth and change their minds after a second look. Go further and the irony expands on itself, given that it was the exact same penalty on both occasions that extended the game for one more play. The only difference was that in the Music City Bowl, it was UNC committing the penalty, yet somehow it worked to their favor and Tennessee still lost.
Tennessee fans reacted as they always have, by throwing garbage onto the field in utter rejection of what had just taken place. Credit to the Vol fan base, who is at least show remarkable consistency decade to decade in their coping mechanisms for when things don’t go their way. And boy, is it fun to watch when things don’t go their way.
Thank you for tuning in this week. Next Friday, we’ll leap forward to one of Butch Jones’ efforts to overcome the demons of Tennessee misfortune.