One play haunts UT

One play. That's all Alabama's offense could muster – but, ultimately, all it needed – in last year's 6-3 defeat of Tennessee at Tuscaloosa. The Vols limited the Tide to 67 rushing yards and 257 total yards but still lost.

That's because the "one play" was a 43-yard completion from Brodie Croyle to D.J. Hall on third-and-long at the Alabama 22-yard line in the game's final minutes. Four plays later, Jamie Christensen kicked a game-winning 34-yard field goal with 13 seconds left.

Although Tennessee's defense was outstanding that day, defensive coordinator John Chavis doesn't view it that way.

"You can't say that when you give up a big play and lose the ball game," he says, still haunted by the memory. "It's sad when you're in that situation but those things occur in the SEC: You give up one play and you lose the ball game.

"People are going to make plays. Our defense played really well last year but we didn't play well enough to win because we gave up that play."

Senior linebacker Marvin Mitchell admits that it really hurt giving up just six points and still losing.

"It was disappointing," he says. "We played pretty well as a defense but we didn't play for 60 minutes. We gave up that one play at the end."

Asked if that was the toughest loss he's had to swallow as a Vol, Mitchell hedged.

"We've had some tough losses around here," he says. "You don't want to go out that way – especially accomplishing the goals you set during the week – but this is a team game and we should've got a stop in the fourth quarter."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer concedes that last year's loss to Bama still stings.

"I've not had a loss that doesn't sting," he says, "but that one stung a lot because of the way it happened, where we were at the time and how well our defense had played….

"We had a chance to win it and, bang, all of a sudden it slips out of your hands."

Actually, the game slipped out of Tennessee's hands because the ball twice slipped out of the hands of Vol running backs. Gerald Riggs lost a fumble at the Tide 9-yard line in the first quarter and Cory Anderson fumbled through the end zone from the Bama 5-yard line in the final minutes, setting up Croyle's big bomb to Hall.

Tennessee never recovered from the loss. Ranked 17th coming in, the Vols lost three of their five remaining games to finish 5-6.

Asked how embarrassing it was to score just three points against the Tide last season, senior guard David Ligon frowned.

"Actually, it was just a part of the whole debacle last year," he says. "It's all here, and we're feeding off that energy and that disappointment."

Whereas the Vol attack was sputtering when it faced Bama last year, it is clearly rolling this year. With David Cutcliffe coordinating the offense, Tennessee is averaging 35.2 points per game and has scored 41 (vs. Memphis) and 51 (vs. Georgia) in its last two outings.

"We've jelled more as an offense," Ligon notes. "We're just clicking. We're trying hard. We tried hard last year but things just weren't working out. This year they are.

"We're a better offense this year. I think we had the talent to be as good last year but it didn't work out. Give credit to the man who changed the tempo (Cutcliffe) and give credit to the players for buying into it and producing."

Odds are, Tennessee won't be limited to three points again. And, odds are, it will take more than "one play" to beat the Vols this time.

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