KNOXVILLE — Until last Saturday at LSU, this weekend’s trip to Georgia figured to be the emotional nightmare game on Tennessee’s football schedule.
After all, Volunteers coach Derek Dooley grew up a Bulldog, his father Vince having coached the Red and Black for 25 years.
There also was the memory of last year burning brightly in the minds of the current Bulldogs. Not only because the Big Orange won 45-19 inside Neyland Stadium, but because then-coach Lane Kiffin boasted to Vols players he would never lose to Georgia.
(Of course, that might prove true since Kiffin’s now coaching at Southern Cal. But he couldn’t have known that then, could he? Could he?)
Anyway, all of that seemed certain to make this Saturday afternoon between the hedges as enjoyable for Tennessee as a registered letter from the NCAA Infractions Committee.
But then came last weekend on the bayou, and the redoux that made LSU a 16-14 winner after Tennessee linebacker Nick Reveiz thought he had recovered a fumble on the final play to make the Vols 14-10 victors.
“It really felt like a horror film,” Reveiz said Monday. “I hopped on the ball. I thought it was over. Then I look back and see a yellow flag. I’m thinking, ‘Surely not, surely not.’ But it was.”
For Tennessee, it could have been labeled “Nightmare on the Bayou.” Or “The Victory Snatchers.” For LSU, it was “Lucky 13,” since that’s how many men the Vols had on the field on the play — two more than allowed.
Given an extra snap from the goal line, the Tigers scored and UT fell to 2-3. Dooley was so concerned about his team’s psyche that he gave them Monday off, working them Sunday instead.
“I didn’t want them to have a day off and have all the fans and their parents and their families talk about how they got screwed, because that’s not the case,” he said.
The reasons for UT’s loss to LSU may be debated for years to come, but if the Vols expect to avoid a similar fate at Georgia they need to move on by today’s practice, if not sooner.
UGA may indeed be 1-4 overall and 0-3 within the SEC, but all except Saturday’s loss at Colorado came without the services of wideout A.J. Green, who was forced to serve an NCAA-mandated suspension.
To hear both Dooley and Reveiz tell it, having Green back is like Georgia returning Herschel Walker, Fran Tarkenton and Champ Bailey to the lineup at the same time in their prime.
Said Dooley of Green, who caught two touchdowns against Colorado, including one that was No. 1 on ESPN’s Top 10 plays: “Well, they’ve got probably the best player in college football playing receiver. You saw just his presence his first game back. The guy’s unbelievable. That’s the No. 1 challenge.”
Added Reveiz: “A.J. Green is spectacular. One game back and he’s already made one of the best plays of the season.”
Yet having said that, Dooley doesn’t seem all that concerned about going home, so to speak.
“A lot of people are trying to make something out of this,” he said. “I left Athens when I was 18. I know I’m not old, but that was a long time ago. I’ve worn a lot of [school] colors since then.
“The Athens that I knew and the Georgia that I knew was my dad coaching as a kid. When he stopped coaching and when I went to college, that ended. There won’t be any nostalgia.”
No, but there will be a giant opportunity for both programs to reverse disappointing starts before losing records become irreversible. Much as the Vols’ victory a year ago led to five victories in their last seven games, a win by either team could jumpstart a race to respectability.
“They’re still a proud program; they’ve still got great players,” Reveiz said. “Their win column just isn’t as big [as usual]. Neither is ours.”
At least not as big as it could have been if the Vols had realized that 11 plus 2 equals not only 13 but defeat.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...