Editor's note: This is the 11th story in a series reflecting on the 1998 Tennessee football team that finished 13-0 and won the BCS national championship. This story by Ward Gossett was originally published 20 years ago.
NASHVILLE — For the first time this season, the University of Tennessee scored a shutout. For the first time in 42 years, UT has completed a football season unbeaten and untied. For the first time in history, the top-ranked Volunteers have an 11-win regular season under their belts, the undefeated campaign of 1956 coming when college teams played only 10 games in the regular season.
Tennessee, playing its final 1998 regular-season game here at Vanderbilt's Dudley Field, posted a 41-0 rout of the in-state rival Commodores, polishing them off in rather convincing fashion with perhaps the Vols' most impressive defensive performance of the year.
"They're a well-deserving No. 1," said Vanderbilt coach Woody Widenhofer. "In the four years that I've been here, this is they toughest team they've had."
"To go 11-0 and have an undefeated season it has been an incredible year that way," said UT's Phillip Fulmer. "All year long, these kids have been up to the challenges that have been there."
With the Vandy victory, which came before a sellout and orange-and-white-dominated crowd of 41,600 and television cameras from Jefferson-Pilot and ESPN2, finally out of the way, UT can now afford more than a peek at the postseason.
"It's great to finish 11-0 and it's a compliment to the program, but it's right back to work. There are still two games to go," said junior tackle Darwin Walker.
The Volunteers, repeating as Eastern Division champions in the Southeastern Conference, will turn their attention to the league's championship game Saturday (8 p.m., ABC-TV) in Atlanta, where they'll meet 25th-ranked Mississippi State in the Georgia Dome. MSU, which finished its regular season 8-3, wrapped up the West crown with a 28-6 win over Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night.
Beyond that, Tennessee is hopeful for a berth in the national championship game on Jan. 4 at Tempe, Ariz. Obviously, there was little time to enjoy the 11-0 season, the second straight SEC East title or the effort that went into yesterday's win over Vanderbilt. But the Volunteers, when they look back, will probably remember getting a scoring monkey off their back when facing the Commodores. The last three seasons had been UT wins, yes, but by scores of 12-7, 14-7 and 17-10.
"I told Coach Fulmer afterwards they could have done this to us the past three years. I think the switch from Peyton Manning to Tee Martin has made them tougher because they've had to build up their offensive line and running game," Widenhofer added.
The Vols' offense Saturday was good, the defense better. Sophomore tailback Travis Henry, recording his fourth 100-yard rushing effort of the season, gained 136 yards and a TD on 22 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per tote. Quarterback Tee Martin completed 13 of 20 passes for 241 yards with a TD and no interceptions. And senior wideout Peerless Price hauled in seven catches for 181 yards and a TD and was on the receiving end of a 67-yard bomb from Martin.