The Tigers went up 10-0 on a 23-yard Aaron Hunt field goal with 3:48 left in the quarter but should've had another TD. Kevin Youngblood caught a pass in the back of the end zone but officials ruled that his first foot to land was out of bounds, a decision not supported by slow-motion replays.
The Vols, down 10-0, easily could've trailed 21-0.
Tennessee showed a spark of life at this point, driving 87 yards to score with six seconds left in the quarter. A 19-yard screen pass from Casey Clausen to Chris Hannon closed the gap to 10-7 ... but only momentarily.
Clemson continued to shred Tennessee's defense, zooming 80 yards in eight plays to go up 17-7. Chad Jasmin did the honors, bursting up the gut from 15 yards out as UT's defense struggled with the Tigers' no-huddle offense.
Clemson again ran through Vol defenders like they were made of tissue paper, however, zipping 80 yards in 10 plays. A pass interference call on Vol cornerback Jason Allen negated a drive-killing interception by Rashad Baker (who dropped two other interceptions). Clemson also converted a 3rd-and-10 when Charlie Whitehurst found a wide-open Derrick Hamilton for 23 yards to the UT 6-yard line. Kyle Browning scored on a fumblerooskie three plays later as the lead swelled to 24-14.
Clemson wasn't quite finished, though. The Tigers marched deep into UT territory just before halftime. Fortunately for the Big Orange, a wide-open Hamilton dropped a pass at the Vol 5-yard line 28 seconds shy of intermission and Hunt missed a 49-yard field goal moments later. If Hamilton catches the ball at the 5, Clemson probably goes to halftime leading 31-14, instead of 24-14.
As noted earlier, it could've been worse.
Tennessee threatened only once in the second half, moving to the Tiger 3-yard line late in the third quarter. A third-down Clausen pass to Mark Jones was ruled to be trapped, however, and UT was penalized 15 yards when Clausen bumped the official while protesting the call. James Wilhoit, who had made 12 of his previous 13 field goal tries, missed from 36 yards, and Tennessee's doom was sealed.
Clemson added another Hunt field goal in the final minutes as the lead swelled to 27-14.
Clausen was UT's lone bright spot, passing for 384 yards. Otherwise, this was another dismal day at the Dome for Tennessee, which also lost at the Georgia Dome in 2001 (to LSU in the SEC Championship Game) and in 2002 (to Maryland in the Peach Bowl).
While the Vols lost by 27 points to Maryland (30-3) and only by 13 this time, the score didn't really indicate how badly the Vols played. For instance, Tennessee gained just 20 rushing yards but lost 119 penalty yards.
Obviously, when the No. 6 team in America is dominated by an unranked opponent like Clemson, that's pretty humiliating. There was but one note of consolation:
It could've been worse.