Recalling '01 UT-UGA shootout

There is no question that the Tennessee-Georgia shootout Oct. 6, 2001 at Neyland Stadium was one of the most exciting games in recent college football history. Whether it also was one of the greatest games, however, depends on your perspective.

Mark Schlabach is a University of Georgia graduate who spent six years covering Bulldog football for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Given this background, he understandably considers the Dawgs' stunning upset win on Shields-Watkins Field in '01 a classic. That's why he profiled it today in an espn.com piece entitled "Best Game I've Ever Seen."

Those who follow Tennessee, of course, do not recall that game as a classic. They are more inclined to recall it as one of the darkest days in recent Volunteer history. In case you've forgotten, here's a recap:

Down 20-17 and 66 yards from the end zone with less than a minute remaining, Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders noticed that Georgia's defensive backs were turning their backs and running full-speed downfield on every snap to ensure that no Vol receiver got behind them for a long touchdown catch. Sanders alertly called a screen pass to tailback Travis Stephens.

The strategy worked brilliantly. With Georgia's defensive backs overplaying the deep ball, Casey Clausen lobbed a short toss to Stephens in the left flat. Stephens sped through the unsuspecting Bulldogs for a 66-yard touchdown that gave Tennessee a 24-20 lead with just 44 seconds left. Vol fans were jubilant but their elation would be short-lived.

Georgia fielded Tennessee's ensuing squib kick at the 41-yard line with 39 seconds remaining ... time enough for maybe six plays. It only took five. The fifth one was a dramatic six-yard touchdown pass from David Greene to fullback Vernon Haynes with five seconds left, giving the unranked Bulldogs a 26-24 upset of the sixth-ranked Vols.

Whereas Schlabach calls it the best game he's ever seen, I'd call it the biggest turnaround I've ever seen. The loss nullified a brilliant play call by Sanders, who resigned under pressure four years later. Meanwhile, the win – Mark Richt's first SEC road victory as head man at Georgia – launched his career. Spurred by that huge upset, he has gone on to become one of the most respected coaches in the college game.

In retrospect, that had to be one of the most damaging losses in Vol history ... a game Tennessee let slip away in the final 44 seconds.

At least, that's what I remember about the Tennessee-Georgia game of Oct. 6, 2001. For Schlabach's version of the events you'll need to check his article at espn.com.


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