Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tennessee: If we would have only...

2001 SEC Championship Game

For a few SEC teams, its tough to just single out one game over the last ten years that all the fans would love to have back. For Tennessee, however, its a no-brainer. Or at least it should be.

The Vols need back the 2001 SEC Championship Game, when they lost to underdog LSU.

The Vols had a strong season through early December, as they went to Atlanta in with a 10-1 record. More importantly, they were on pace for a date with Miami in the Rose Bowl for the BCS title game. Nebraska had a late season implosion and Texas lost to Colorado in the Big 12 Championship Game to leave the door open for the SEC to get a shot at the BCS title.

Most fans believed Florida would go through that door, but the Vols upset the Gators in a 9/11 makeup game the week before. Coincidentally, that was the one game Florida needs back.

Its important to think of the LSU of 2001 and not the LSU powerhouse program most think of today. This was just two years after the Tigers went 1-7 in SEC play. Their 5-3 SEC record in 2001 was not overly impressive. A fair comparison for the LSU program going into 2001 is a slightly more talented version of the Mississippi State squad heading into 2008.

This may be exaggerated somewhat, but the point is that the Tigers simply weren't a feared program at the time.

LSU jumped out to an early lead, but this was still no reason for the Vol faithful to panic. They didn't, and clearly looked like the more powerful team as they scored 17 straight points en route to a 17-10 halftime lead.

Not sure what happened in the locker rooms during halftime, but nothing went right for the Vols after they scored those 17 straight. Backup quarterback Matt Mauck – backup freshman quarterback – didn't appear to have much success from a box score point of view; he was only 5 for 15 passing for 67 yards. Still, he did what he had to to pickup key first downs in the second half.

It seemed he scrambled for a first down every time the Tigers needed one. Vols fans were obviously frustrated at the fact that this freshman quarterback Mauck could keep the Vols offense off the field and the defense off balance.

Tennessee threatened a late comeback attempt, but nothing materialized. The Vols had to settle for a field goal with about 10 minutes left in the game to cut LSU's lead to 24-20. The field goal came after the Vols had 1st and goal from the 4-yard line.

After a defensive stand, the Vols got the ball back with a chance to recapture the lead. They didn't have the ball for long, though, as Donte' Stallworth fumbled away a nice gain on a reception to give it back to the Tigers.

LSU scored the final points of the game on a one-yard touchdown run, but only after they held the ball for six minutes. The game was all but over when Tennessee got the ball back with about two minutes left, trailing 31-20. By that time, Tennessee fans knew they had blown their chance at a second BCS title in four years.

Who was this Saban guy, anyway?

Tennessee had to settle for the Citrus Bowl, where they played like the national championship contenders their fans had expected in Atlanta. They destroyed Michigan 45-10 in Orlando. There was a still hollow feeling afterward, as Vols fans were left thinking about the Rose Bowl and what might have been.

Nebraska fell bass-ackwards into the Rose Bowl, where they played like, well, the second-best team in the Big 12 North.