6 losses that still annoy every Tennessee fan
Over the past two decades, Tennessee’s football team has had many memorable moments. Unfortunately for Vols fans, the overwhelming majority have been ones they’d rather forget.
Some of the losses they’ve suffered have been so shocking, so devastating, so painful that those fans could be excused if they chose to spend all football Saturdays as far from Neyland Stadium or a TV as possible.
It’s a tough task, but in this article, we will find the 6 losses since the year 2000 that still annoy Tennessee fans to this day.
Let’s go in chronological order:
2000 vs. Florida (27-23)
The Tennessee/Florida game used to be the de facto SEC East title game. Back in 2000, both teams were ranked in the top 11. A sold-out crowd at Neyland Stadium saw Vols running back Travis Henry run for 175 yards on 37 carries, but UT couldn’t put the Gators away.
Late in the game, Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer had the Gators in position for the winning score. On 2nd-and-goal from the 3 and only 20 seconds left, Palmer threw a pass to Jabar Gaffney a foot inside the end zone. Gaffney controlled the reception for a minuscule amount of time, but a line judge named Al Matthews ruled the catch good, giving Florida the win.
This was before instant replay, so there was no eye in the sky to assist Tennessee. That loss kept the Vols from going to the SEC Championship Game.
It has been a couple of decades since that controversial call. But the mere mention of the names Jabar Gaffney or Al Matthews still brings forth angry responses from Vols fans.
2001 SEC Championship Game vs. LSU (31-20)
The Vols entered this game one week after upsetting Florida in The Swamp. If the Vols could beat LSU for the SEC Championship, they’d play undefeated Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national title.
Tennessee had an absurd amount of talent. Casey Clausen. Donte Stallworth. Kelley Washington. Jason Witten. Travis Stephens. John Henderson. Albert Haynesworth. They were supremely confident and had beaten that same LSU squad back in September.
But LSU had head coach Nick Saban, an unheard of backup quarterback named Matt Mauck, and a Tigers team that was peaking at just the right time.
The Vols fumbled the football twice in the 4th quarter and saw their Rose Bowl dreams go up in flames.
Tennessee has never again been that close to playing for a national championship.
2011 at Kentucky (10-7)
The Vols simply didn’t lose to Kentucky. Well, yes it had happened way in the past, but heading into the 2011 matchup, Tennessee was riding a 26-game winning streak over the Wildcats. A win would get the Vols to 6-6 and the bowl berth that would come with it.
That wasn’t a very good Vols team, but certainly they had enough talent to beat a UK team forced to play a converted wide receiver named Matt Roark at quarterback. Roark was a senior and hadn’t played QB since high school.
Roark only completed 4 passes that afternoon, for a grand total of 15 yards. But while he was running for 124 yards, Tennessee could only muster 61 rushing yards as a team.
The Vols were upset 10-7. Kentucky fans rushed the field as if they had just won the SEC.
In the weeks that followed, there were reports that some players had no desire to play in a “lower-level” bowl game, and thus didn’t give much effort. Making matters worse, recruits decommitted and nearly the entire coaching staff resigned.
All the while, head coach Derek Dooley was silent, going an astounding 38 days without public comment of any kind at a time when the Tennessee football program was burning to the ground.
It was not the best of times.
2015 vs. Oklahoma (31-24 in 2 OT)
The Vols hosted Oklahoma on a steamy September Saturday night. The sold-out crowd welcomed the Sooners with a level of loudness that the visitors had never experienced.
For 4 hours it was pure bedlam.
Despite the unforgivable sin of kicking a 1st quarter FG on 4th-and-goal from inside the 1, Butch Jones’ Vols took a 17-3 lead into the 4th quarter.
That’s when they ran out of steam. The Sooners, led by future Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, put forth a furious rally, tying the game in the final minutes, and eventually winning in double overtime.
Vols fans at Neyland Stadium put that experience on the shortlist with 1998 Florida in terms of sustained noise. Unfortunately, this game didn’t result in torn-down goalposts.
2015 vs. Florida (28-27)
Just 2 weeks after that loss to Oklahoma, the Vols played at Florida. UT hadn’t won there since 2003, but they were fairly dominant most of the afternoon. Dobbs was the best player on the field, with 277 all-purpose yards, including a 58-yard reception on a trick play pass thrown by receiver Jauan Jennings.
When Jalen Hurd scored on a 10-yard run, Tennessee led 26-14 with 10:19 remaining. Jones kicked the extra point instead of going for 2, a decision that would cost him and the Vols dearly.
With just over a minute and a half remaining, Florida trailed 27-21, facing 4th-and-14 from its own 37. Tennessee needed 1 more stop. Instead, defensive coordinator John Jancek rushed only 3, and quarterback Will Grier hit Antonio Callaway for a 1st down — except Callaway ran it all the way for the 63-yard go-ahead score.
Tennessee had one last chance. Aaron Medley lined up for a 55 yard FG on the final play. The kick was long enough. Tennessee’s beloved color commentator Tim Priest screamed “GOOD!” on the Vol Network broadcast.
But the kick was wide right by a couple of inches.
Had Tennessee won, they would have finished the season tied with Florida in the SEC East and earned a trip to the SEC title game.
2016 vs. South Carolina (24-21)
This was the season that everything was finally coming together for Butch Jones and the Vols.
They started 5-0, with dramatic wins over rivals Florida and Georgia. They were ranked in the top 10, and seemingly on their way to the SEC Championship Game for the first time in 9 years.
But a double-overtime loss at Texas A&M was followed up by blowout defeat against Alabama. Still, they hit the bye week heading into the easier part of their schedule. Win out and the odds were very good that they’d take the SEC East.
Tennessee went to Columbia to play a South Carolina team that was only 3-4, and playing a freshman quarterback named Jake Bentley who had skipped his senior year of high school.
The Vols were banged up, missing Alvin Kamara and other key players, but there was no way they should lose this game. They were a 2-touchdown favorite with everything to play for … but the Gamecocks were the better team on this night.
The upset kept Tennessee from winning the East. A loss to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale kept them out of the Sugar Bowl.
It was the beginning of the end for Butch Jones.
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I could have probably done 15-20 of these … honorable mention selections include the 2007 SEC Championship Game vs. LSU, 2009 at Alabama, 2010 at LSU, 2010 Music City Bowl vs. North Carolina, 2013 vs. Vanderbilt, 2019 vs. Georgia State, 2019 vs. BYU.