But mobile quarterback Matt Mauck and talented reserve Dominick Davis sparked a comeback that led LSU to an upset of Tennessee, 31-20, and spoiled the Vols chance to play No. 1 Miami in the Rose Bowl.
It was the most bitter defeat of UT coach Phillip Fulmer's career.
Fulmer still pines about that loss – although not so much publicly.
Now the shoe is somewhat on the other foot.
LSU is the favorite Saturday in the SEC title game. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 much of this season and only a defeat in triple overtime at home to Arkansas knocked LSU out of national championship contention.
Tennessee is the hunter, hoping to notch another strand of disappointment to LSU's once promising season.
``That (2001) was a tough loss,'' Fulmer said, ``but every year stands on its own. … I don't get into the payback business.''
Don't buy it. Fulmer would love to get payback against LSU. He'd love to win his first SEC championship since 1998. He'd love to take Tennessee to the Sugar Bowl for the first time since the 1990 season.
To win, Tennessee must do three things:
One, it must pressure LSU quarterback Matt Flynn into a bad day passing. It's almost a given that LSU will have open receivers – especially if they go to a four wide set. Almost every team this season has found holes in the worst UT secondary in over 18 years. LSU has allowed 28 sacks, so its quarterbacks can be pressured. And Flynn has had three games this season in which he has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes – although drops have contributed to his less-than-stellar numbers.
Two, Tennessee's receivers must beat press coverage and catch the ball. The Vols have had trouble in both areas and LSU likes to play bump-and-run with corners Chevis Jackson, Jai Eugene and Jonathan Zenon. Given UT's fondness for the short passing game, if UT's receivers can't get open quickly, Erik Ainge will be pressured by a strong pass rush and he'll likely throw away quite a few balls away to avoid sacks. Against Kentucky, UT dropped six passes, three in the last eight minutes of regulation that would have converted first downs and likely won the game in regulation.
Three, Tennessee must slow down the run like it did against Georgia (69 yards) and Arkansas (127). LSU is the second-best running team in the SEC, led by four tailbacks and a mobile quarterback. Not only can Flynn run, backup Ryan Perrilloux is adept at the option – a play that has given UT fits over the years. Most of the time when LSU runs the option, the quarterback keeps. Given Flynn's bum ankle and sore shoulder, UT might see more of Perrilloux.