UT's Play of the Game

Trailing Memphis 13-0 midway through the second quarter with a dazed and confused homecoming crowd looking on, the Volunteers needed a big play in the worst kind of way — what they got, instead, was the mother of all long shots.

A 39-yard pass completion, in and of itself, hardly seems an unlikely event, but when it's a team's longest scoring play of a season that is two weeks from being complete it becomes, at the very least, unusual. Add the fact the team in question was ranked No. 3 in NCAA preseason polls, and that the players who connected on the TD toss are a fifth-year senior and a true freshman, neither of whom started the game, and this touchdown falls into the realm of Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

Perhaps that's hyperbole, but in a season filled with low lights it stands as a shining moment, and it clearly qualifies as Inside Tennessee's Play of the Game.

The against-all-odds alliance of Rick Clausen and Josh Briscoe combined for the touchdown at the 6:25 mark, as Clausen heaved the ball from near midfield and Briscoe laid out for the reception just past the goal line to cap a dynamic three-play, 56-yard drive that put the Vols back in the game.

The Vols would go on to capture the victory, keeping their tenuous 16-year bowl appearance streak intact while holding the wolves of an early winter at bay for another week. What made it special — in a season that has been especially bad — is that it was a pass right at the very upper range of Clausen's arm strength, it went right over the top of the defensive back and right into the outstretched hands of a diving Briscoe.

Some might call it a sling and a pray, but it could just as easily be called synergy of spirit, as two players that weren't regarded as five star or even four-star prospects coming out of high school, on a roster with little else, demonstrate what can be accomplished with a lot of heart and a little less talent.

In short: it was the type of big play the Vols have needed all fall but have rarely found. It was the team's longest scoring play of the 2005 campaign, it was thrown by the UT QB with the weakest arm and caught by the team's youngest receiver. It stands out because UT's veteran receivers have too often failed to make the easy catches this year, much less the hard ones.

Like he did against UAB and LSU, Clausen came on in relief of a shaky Eric Ainge and righted Tennessee's course. If Rick had been on the crew of the Titanic, it would have missed the iceberg by an eyelash. If Ainge was behind the wheel of the unsinkable ship, it would have gone out of bounds before it hit the iceberg.

Although the Clausen-to-Briscoe connection didn't come in the biggest game or against the strongest opponent, it is as significant for Tennessee as it is symbolic. It was thrown by a senior captain trying to save his class' legacy and his team's dignity. It was caught by a freshman, who came to UT as a member of the nation's No. 1 rated recruiting class in 2005, pushing for more playing time.

It wasn't just a passing of the tater. It was a passing of the torch.


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