In this wild and wacky season, what else would you expect?
To say the Volunteers' 2007 season has been a rollercoaster ride would not be doing it justice. After opening with a 45-31 loss to
The rest of the season was a two-horse race in the East with Georgia and the Vols jockeying for the top spot. With the win over
Not this year.
Tennessee 25, Vanderbilt 24 – where the Vols were down 15 points in the fourth quarter, did not take the lead until a field goal with 2:46 left gave them a one-point edge, and then hung on to watch as a potential Commodore game-winner missed by inches with 33 seconds left.
And then …
"Our team has some shortcomings in some areas, but heart and fight's not one of them," said head coach Phil Fulmer after the marathon, five-hour win over the Wildcats.
For the Volunteers, a win in the Georgia Dome would be an unlikely finishing touch on a season that has seemed inches away from unraveling all year long. At 1-2, everyone not named Fulmer in
For LSU, it was supposed to be the final hit-out before the ultimate brass ring, the BCS Championship Game. Ranked No. 1 in the nation, all the Tigers had to do was defeat unranked and 13-point underdog
Two teams. Two different motivations. One goal: a New Year's Day game in
Ainge's Volunteers are a good-but-not-great bunch, ranking 53rd nationally in total offense and 22nd in scoring offense. Junior wideout Lucas Taylor is the top-ranked receiver in the SEC with 71 catches for 975 yards and five touchdowns, while Austin Rogers is close behind with 51 catches for 567 yards and four scores.
Five other players have multiple receiving touchdowns in 2007, including senior tight end Chris Brown (5) and junior receiver Josh Briscoe (4). Running back Arian Foster has two touchdowns coming out of the backfield.
Foster, the sixth-ranked running back in the SEC, leads the Vols on the ground with 1,107 yards and 12 touchdowns and a 5.3 yards per carry average. Monterio Hardesty has replaced dismissed running back LaMarcus Coker as Foster's backup and has carried the ball 82 times for 338 yards and three scores.
Ainge and Foster are helped by having one of the best offensive lines in the nation, as evidenced by their IA-leading four sacks allowed through 12 games. Foster's 118-yard performance against
Left tackle Chris Scott is a converted right guard, Jacques McClendon is the new right guard, while Anthony Parker – the 2006 right guard – this year is manning the left guard spot. Sophomore center Josh McNeil was a unanimous Freshman All-SEC pick in 2006.
The defense ranks last in the SEC in tackles for loss, and is 11th in pass, pass efficiency, scoring, and total defense. As a unit, they are tied for eighth in the conference in takeaways with 21, 14 of which were interceptions. Freshman strong safety Eric Berry leads the team with four picks, while 10 other players have one each.
Backup right end Robert Ayers leads the team with three sacks, while starting right end Antonio Reynolds, middle linebacker Ellix Wilson, free safety Ricardo Kemp, and left tackle Delmonte Bolden have two each. Middle linebacker Jerod Mayo is the leading tackler with 112, while weakside 'backer Rico McCoy is close behind with 98.
Punter Britton Colquitt averages 42.18 yards per kick, while the kick return units rank first in the SEC in kickoff returns (24.3 yards per return) and fifth in punt returns (9.46 with one touchdown).
Freshman kicker and Lou Groza Award finalist Daniel Lincoln is 47-of-48 on PATs and is hitting more than 80 percent of his field goal chances, including 70 percent from 40-49 yards, with a season long of 48 yards. His 21 field goals are the third most in a single season in Tennessee history, and he needs just 11 more points to move into second place in Vols single-season history.
So, in a season where preseason No. 10 Louisville can go 5-6 and finish sixth in the Big East, and preseason No. 20 Nebraska can score 33 points per game but give up 40 six times (and 65 and 76 once each) and finish with a 5-7 record and an unemployed head coach, the question deserves to be asked again: