1. Neyland nightmare
Georgia outplayed Tennessee at the start of their 2003 matchup at Neyland Stadium, but a 90-yard touchdown pass from Casey Clausen to Mark Jones early in the second quarter got the Volunteers within 10-7 and ignited the crowd. The Bulldogs extended their lead to 13-7, but Tennessee began a drive at its own 5-yard line late in the half and marched 92 yards to the Georgia 3.
On first-and-goal with 36 seconds remaining, Cedric Houston carried for 2 yards to the 1. A Clausen keeper on second down was stuffed by Kedric Golston for no gain, so the Vols called time out with seven seconds remaining.
The call was for an off-tackle run by tailback Jabari Davis, but Davis never got the ball. Clausen fumbled after being brushed by fullback Troy Fleming, and the ball rolled back to the 8-yard line, where Georgia safety Sean Jones scooped it up and raced 92 yards for the stunning touchdown.
“The first half was a war, and that last play was the largest momentum swing I’ve ever seen,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We could have been down one, but we were up 13. It was a big boost for us, and it had to be tough for them.”
Was it ever on both accounts.
After Georgia took its first possession of the second half 83 yards in 14 plays to grab a 27-7 lead, Clausen was hit as he threw by defensive end David Pollack and was intercepted by linebacker Odell Thurman, who made an 8-yard return to the Tennessee 5. The Bulldogs capitalized to make it 34-7.
Then Clausen was intercepted by defensive end Robert Geathers at the Tennessee 22. Kregg Lumpkin ran 22 yards on the ensuing play to make it 41-7, and the Vols were on pace to suffer their worst SEC home defeat ever before they scored late to make it a 41-14 final.
When asked about the horrifying end to the first half, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said, “Our guys were tanked after that.”
2. The Darvin award
Cam Newton didn’t need another signature play to cement the 2010 Heisman Trophy, but he got one anyway.
Newton’s Auburn Tigers jumped out to a 21-7 lead over South Carolina in the SEC championship game, but the Gamecocks pulled within 21-14 with 16 seconds left in the first half and were set to get the ball to open the second half with the potential to knot the score.
Then again, maybe not.
On the final play of the half, Newton sailed a 51-yard pass into the end zone. It was tipped by Gamecocks safety DeVonte Holloman but snagged by receiver Darvin Adams over cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Auburn coach Gene Chizik called it a “huge momentum swing,” while South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was a bit less thrilled.
“Our players did not play the call correctly,” Johnson said, “and I think sometimes they don’t understand what is at stake. If you play against another quarterback, you might get away with that, but against Cam Newton you can’t.”
The Gamecocks missed a field goal on their opening possession of the third quarter, and the game was over. Auburn scored two touchdowns in a 33-second span midway through the third to go up 42-14 and went on to mutilate the Gamecocks 56-17.
Adams finished with an SEC championship game record of 217 yards on seven catches, and there was no question which of the seven was the most memorable.
3. Banks is money
Florida scored 30 or more points in five consecutive wins over Tennessee during the 1990s, but the Gators held only a 3-0 lead over the Vols late in the second quarter of their physical 2003 encounter.
With 40 seconds left in the half, Gators coach Ron Zook called time out after tailback DeShawn Wynn gained 6 yards on first-and-10 from the Florida 20. Ingle Martin threw incomplete on second down, stopping the clock, and a 2-yard carry by Ran Carthon on third-and-4 was followed by a Tennessee timeout with 27 seconds remaining.
The Vols took over at their 39 following the Florida punt and had 16 seconds with which to work. Clausen passed to Houston for 13 yards to the Florida 48 and then threw incomplete over the middle, leaving time to run one more play.
Clausen’s final pass of the half bounced off two Florida defenders before settling in the arms of receiver James Banks for a 48-yard score.
“It’s one of those plays you work on all the time,” Banks said, “but you never think you are going to run it or that it is going to work.”
Said Florida safety Daryl Dixon: “Everyone did their job except for the ball.”
Tennessee capitalized on the momentum by outscoring Florida 10-0 in the third quarter to build a 17-3 lead in an eventual 24-10 triumph. That was the second victory in the Swamp in a row for the Vols, but they haven’t won there since.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...