Wiedmer: Replay Man latest Vols villain for late-game overturn

Wiedmer: Replay Man latest Vols villain for late-game overturn

November 24th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee wide receiver Pig Howard (2) breaks past Vanderbilt safety Javon Marshall (31).

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - When it comes to whom the Big Orange Nation views as Public Enemy No. 1 for its struggling football program, former Tennessee coaches Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley and former athletic director Mike Hamilton now have some company.

Replay Man, come on down.

According to UT flip cards, Ben Oldham is the Southeastern Conference replay official whose name may now live in infamy in the hearts of BON after he decided Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels actually got a first down at the UT 33-yard line with 46 seconds to play instead of being stopped inches short of that line, as officials on the field originally ruled.

It is certainly fair to pause here to consider whether anyone who spells Austin "A-u-s-t-y-n" deserves such a ruling. But given new life in a game they trailed 10-7 at the time, the Commodores wound up scoring a few plays later when reserve QB Patton Robinette -- who grew up down the road from Neyland Stadium in Maryville and thus far has resisted the urge to spell his last name R-o-b-y-n-e-t-t-e -- scored after faking a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass with 16 ticks on the clock.

So not only did visiting Vanderbilt wind up winning 14-10, it has beaten UT in back-to-back seasons for the first time since it posted seven straight victories against the Volunteers from 1920 to 1926.

It's doubtful any of those got under Big Orange skins more than this one will, however. When even technology quits being your friend, life can't be good.

And as UT senior lineman Daniel Hood was quick to note afterward, life hasn't been much to celebrate around Volsville since the school canned longtime coach Phillip Fulmer at the close of the 2008 season.

"That's kind of been the burden for this senior class," said Hood, one of 28 seniors who played their final game in Neyland Stadium. "Kiffin, LSU and North Carolina, losing at Kentucky two years ago. We'll carry that burden so in the future we can win championships."

They haven't won championships of any kind since Fulmer's 2007 team claimed the SEC East. While no one has yet taken to calling such a drought the Curse of Fulmer, the fact remains that UT now has endured losing seasons for four straight years and hasn't won a bowl game since that 2007 team toppled Wisconsin 21-17 in the Outback Bowl.

And should they somehow lose at Kentucky this Saturday, they'll become the first Tennessee team in history to lose eight games, a national record they had shared with Ohio State.

Not that any UT can fan can reasonably argue that Replay Man was out to get them in this one. He'd actually spent most of the night saving them, reversing two VU fumbles that hadn't been ruled that way until replay overturned the calls on the field.

And one of those almost certainly would have delivered Vanderbilt a touchdown in the first half. So at the worst, this was a replay-giveth-replay-taketh-away kind of night for the home team.

But it also shows what a miracle worker third-year Commodores coach James Franklin continues to be. Especially in November.

Yes, it was former UT coach Johnny Majors who loved to note that they always remember what you do in November, and given a schedule that was always heavy with Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Ole Miss, the Big Orange has often fared quite well in the Turkey Month.

But it's every Commodores fan who'll be giving thanks this week that Franklin saw as much potential in Vanderbilt as it saw in the former Maryland assistant who now has won eight straight games in the calendar's 11th month.

Now 7-4 for the season heading into next week's regular-season finale against visiting Wake Forest, the Commodores could win an eighth regular-season game for a second straight season. And that hasn't happened since 1927 and 1928.

In fact, it took an overtime for UT to beat Franklin's first VU team two years ago in this same stadium. On this night, despite coughing up four turnovers, the Commodores found a way to win with a little help from their replay friend.

This doesn't mean Volniacs shouldn't feel good about their future under Jones. He knows his stuff. Or as Hood eloquently said, "We finally got the right coach."

Even in defeat, Jones proved Hood's point. Eschewing a field goal that would have put the Vols up 13-7 late, Jones ordered a fake field goal that wound up being intercepted.

Yet asked about that decision, the coach said, "I had a gut feeling it would take a touchdown to win the game."

His gut was right. He just didn't know the Replay Man would be the newest villain to kick the Vols in the gut when they needed it the least.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com