WHAT IF... A few critical plays doomed 2002 Vols

Although Tennessee's football team was hammered in four of its five losses last fall, you can look back at a few crucial plays which could've turned that 8-5 disappointment into a memorable 12-1 performance.

To wit:

- As Big Orange fans painfully recall, Tennessee's 30-13 loss to Florida could be traced to one five-minute meltdown. With 4:55 left in the first half, Florida went up 7-0 when Earnest Graham was credited with a controversial TD after being stopped in his tracks on fourth and goal. In rapid succession, the Vols then lost three fumbles, helping the Gators tack on 17 more points and take a 24-0 lead to the locker room.

- Down 15-0 late in the third quarter vs. Georgia, Tennessee's comeback hopes dwindled when James Banks fumbled a snap near midfield that the Bulldogs recovered and turned into a field goal for an 18-0 lead. Had the Vols gotten three points out of that possession, rather than giving three to the Bulldogs, UT arguably could've won 16-15, instead of losing 18-13.

- With Tennessee on the verge of scoring first vs. Alabama, a high pass from Casey Clausen bounced off the hands of Derrick Tinsley. The throw was ruled a lateral, and Bama's Gerald Dixon returned the free ball 66 yards to paydirt. Instead of the Vols grabbing a 7-0 lead, the Tide grabbed a 7-0 lead. UT never recovered from that 14-point swing, eventually losing 34-14.

- Down 7-0 vs. Maryland in the Peach Bowl, Tennessee caught the Terrapins in a blitz. A busted assignment blew the play's chances for a big gain but Clausen tried to make something happen anyway. His ill-advised screen pass was intercepted by Curome Cox and returned 54 yards for a TD that boosted Maryland's lead to 14-0. Later, trailing 17-3 in the third quarter, Tennessee showed some life when Mark Jones returned a fumble 41 yards. The Vols were going in for a score that would've carved the deficit to 17-10 but Derrick Tinsley fumbled at the 7-yard line and Maryland recovered. Game ... set ... match.

The only loss Tennessee suffered that could not be blamed at least in part on a crucial play or series of bad plays was Miami. The Hurricanes were simply a far superior team, so there's no sense suggesting that the outcome of that game hinged on one or two key plays. The turning point that day was the coin toss. That was the only thing UT had a chance to win.


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