Slam Dunk on Rocky Top
War Eagle, everybody! Time now to once again honor our departed head coach of the past decade, with another celebration of one of his greatest games. On October 2, 2004, Auburn traveled to the mountains of east Tennessee, to play the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. The Tigers had not won in Neyland Stadium since 1983, when Pat Dye was the coach, Randy Campbell was the quarterback, and Auburn sported a tremendous wishbone backfield featuring Tommy Agee, Lionel James, and Bo Jackson. Since that 37-14 blowout, Bo took himself out in 1985, and we lost 38-20. In ’87, we tried to sit on a 20-10 lead, and ended up tied. In ’89, we kept snapping it over the punter’s head, and let Reggie Cobb run wild, and lost 21-14. In 1991, we got trampled in a game that was not as close as the 30-21 score indicated. In 1999, Auburn went to Neyland with freshman quarterback Jeff Klein getting his first ever start, and we took a 24-0 blank job beating. Would 2004 be the year that Auburn finally broke the streak?
In 2004, Tennessee was off to a surprising start. Casey Clausen had FINALLY graduated, after what seemed like a decade starting at quarterback for the Vols. The heir apparent was younger brother Rick Clausen, but the younger one had been unceremoniously benched in fall camp. Leading the Vols were a pair of freshmen, Brent Schaefer and Eric Ainge. Now, one might think that the Vols would be in trouble with that rotation, but Tennessee had rung up an impressive 3-0 start, putting up 114 points in the process. Included in that start was a dramatic come from behind, 30-28 win over the Florida Gators. Tennessee had also romped over Nevada Las Vegas, and Louisiana Tech, by identical 42-17 scores. The vols were undefeated, and ranked 10th in the nation, hosting the Tigers.
Auburn had surprised Tiger fans by starting the 2004 season 4-0, but had nothing quite as impressive as the Vol wins on the resume. Auburn had coasted by Louisiana Monroe, Mississippi State, and the Citadel, none of which would post a winning record. As excited as the Auburn nation was over a 10-9 home win over LSU, those Bengal Tigers were exposed earlier in the day, by Georgia. LSU took a 45-16 thumping in Athens, and Auburn’s one point win didn’t look quite so impressive. With Georgia making it look easy over LSU, and the fresh memory of an A-Day-like performance against the Citadel, Auburn fans were nervous about the showdown in thunderous Neyland Stadium.
The Tiger-Vol game was on ESPN Prime Time, a Saturday evening, national television showdown between SEC unbeatens. Even though the leaves were turning on Rocky Top, it was a warm, still, and humid evening on the river, at 67 degrees.
Game Recap, after the jump!
Auburn won the toss, and elected to defer to the 2nd half. As was usual in those days, Phillip Yost slammed the kickoff out of the end zone. Erik Ainge earned the start at quarterback for the Vols, and lined ‘em up in a 3-wide set, under center. Auburn jumped and stemmed on defense, and for a while, it looked like the Tigers were going to blitz 11 guys. Ainge took the snap and promptly rifled the ball out of bounds, over the head of receiver Tony Brown. On 2nd and 10, Ainge again set ‘em up, and when Auburn started jumping again, Ainge called timeout. On 2nd and 3rddowns, Auburn continued to show different looks, and the freshman Ainge’s head was whizzing. Neither throw had a chance. On 4th and 10, the Vols were punting away. Special teams star Tony Bell came through the UT line unblocked, and got a piece of Dustin Colquitt’s punt, which died at the Auburn 45.
Like the Vols, Auburn opened in a 3-wide set, but ran a draw to Carnell Williams, who was stuffed behind the line by UT behemoths Parys Harralson and Jesse Mahelona. A swing pass from Jason Campbell to Ronnie Brown for 8, brought up a manageable 3rd and 3. Tennessee read run, but it was Campbell firing a strike to Courtney Taylor for 14 yards, and a new set of downs in Vol territory, at the 34. Guard Danny Lindsey jumped early, but it was no impediment for the Tigers. Two Carnell Williams sweeps got into the secondary, and the Tigers had another first down at the 24. Auburn went to the well one more time, but Tennessee buried Williams for a loss of a yard. Again, 2nd and long meant an easy swing pass to Ronnie Brown, and Brown battered close to a first down. On third and inches, the Vols’ Harralson jumped, and Auburn was first and goal at the 8. Again, the Vols got Cadillac for a yard loss. Then, a draw to single back Ronnie Brown was the call. The Auburn line opened a gaping hole, and Brown was running downhill! Free safety Jason Allen tried to post Brown up, but got absolutely RUN OVER, losing his helmet in the process! Ronnie Brown pushed the ball over the line, for the Auburn touchdown! After John Vaughn’s kick, Auburn led 7-0, with 9:50 left in the first quarter!
Phillip Yost booted a high kickoff, which was fielded at the goal line by Corey Larkins. Flying down on the coverage was Tony Bell, who nailed Larkins at the 17. The Vols HAD to get something going, and repair the young Ainge’s confidence. What they dialed up was vintage Phillip Fulmer, a dose of I-formation ground game. Cedrick Houston gashed the Tigers for 10, then 4. On second and 6, Ainge tried to sprint out, but Travis Williams put him down for a yard loss. Ainge stood in on 3rdand 7, and fired a strike on the middle screen to Jason Swain. Josh Thompson ran it down from his tackle position, to hold the gain to 11. Two more Houston runs brought up 3rd and 4, and Ainge tossed it to Bret Smith for 16 more, and a first down at the Auburn 37. A first down hitch to C. J. Fayton picked up 7. Then Cedrick Houston slammed off tackle for 6 more, and Tennessee had a first down at the Auburn 24. The Vols were moving. Could the Tiger defense make a stand? Coach Gene Chizik started dialing up the blitzes, and Ainge fired three straight incomplete passes. In came James Wilhoit, who drilled a 41 yard field goal. The Vols had cut the Auburn lead to 7-3, with 4:37 left in the first quarter.
After a Wilhoit touchback, Auburn started at the 20. A first down screen to Ronnie Brown didn’t pick up much. Campbell then fired on the hitch towards Courtney Taylor. Tennessee had what appeared to be a sure pick-six, but somehow, Taylor reached over the back, and took it away from the UT defender who had jumped the route. Taylor took off with the ball, and ended up picking 32 yards, to the UT 46. Then the Tigers started battering the Tennessee defense on the ground. Brown rumbled for 11. Williams for 3, then 22. From first and goal at the UT 10, Brown took it up the gut, slashing and fighting inside the five, down to the one, then the ball came out. Kevin Burnett recovered for the Vols, on the one inch line.
Backed WAY up, the Vols went with a bit of trickeration. Ainge play faked, but defensive tackle Jay Ratliff beat his man, and forced Ainge to throw it away. It was NEARLY a safety. Only the presence of Gerald Riggs near the bouncing ball kept the intentional grounding call away. On second down, the Vols went with the safe QB sneak call. Ainge lost the ball, though, and Auburn’s Tommy Jackson recovered! Fullback Jake Slaughter jumped early, backing the Tigers up off the goal line. CarnellWilliams got only a yard up the gut, then Campbell couldn’t quite get it to tight end Cooper Wallace. On 3rd and goal from the 5, Campbell fired an authoritative strike, on the slant, to Ben Obomanu, for the touchdown! Auburn had taken a double digit lead, in the first quarter! With 17 seconds left in the 1st, John Vaughn knocked in the extra point, and Auburn led 14-3!
Another kick to the goal line came from Phillip Yost, and again Corey Larkins failed to reach the 20. This time it was Tre Smith and Derrick Graves on special teams. Tennessee lifted Eric Ainge, and Brent Schaefer made his debut in the game. A counter to Cedric Houston was predictable, and picked up nothing, as Will Herring flew up and smashed Houston at the line. The first quarter clock ran out, with Auburn leading, 14-3! Schaefer escaped from the pocket on 2nd and 10, and picked up six. A draw to Houston on 3rd and 4 picked up 13 and a first down. The Vols then tried to light the Tigers, and Montae Pitts up, with a first down play action bomb. The pressure came on Schaefer, and he lofted it up. Pitts deflected the ball right to Junior Rosegreen, who secured possession of the interception, and went out of bounds at the Auburn 31!
Auburn immediately tried to hit the home run pass, but instead, Jason Campbell was sacked for a loss of 6. Auburn went right back to the screen to Ronnie Brown, and Brown bailed the drive out with a bruising 19 yard gain. The drive again started melting down, though. Brown was stuffed for nothing up the middle, followed by an offensive interference call against Silas Daniels. Campbell dumped a short pass to Devin Aromashodu, but then Danny Lindsey false-started again. On third and 25, Campbell just wound up and heaved it. Devin Aromashodu came down with the jump ball on the sideline, at the Tennessee 25, a gain of 46 yards! Auburn continued to pound the ball on the ground, and eventually ended up 3rd and 5 at the Vol 7 yard line. Campbell attempted to dump it over the middle, high, to Anthony Mix, but a big rush hurried the throw. In came John Vaughn, who knocked in the short 24 yard field goal. With 7:03 left in the half, Auburn extended the lead to 17-3.
After another Yost touchback, Brent Schaeffer stayed in for the Vols. A handoff to Gerald Riggs went right into Wayne Dickens for no gain, then Auburn showed a big rush. Schaeffer just threw it away. On 3rd and 10, with Auburn jumping up front like madmen, Schaeffer called timeout. Clearly, the Auburn pass rush was rattling the young freshmen! The stoppage didn’t help. Schaeffer telegraphed a no-hope screen to Gerald Riggs on long yardage, incomplete. Dustin Colquitt came in, and sliced the punt off the side of his foot. It traveled only to the 50,and Auburn was back on offense with a 2 touchdown lead.
The next drive did not take long. After a 6 yard Cadillac Williams run, Campbell lit the Tennessee secondary up with a brilliant throw on the seam route to Cooper Wallace. Wallace barreled all the way down to the UT 13. Two gives to Carnell Williams later, and the Cadillac was running over and through Vol defenders, for an Auburn touchdown! With John Vaughn’s kick, Auburn had extended the lead to 24-3, with 4:48 left in the half. Tennessee was now officially in trouble!
Phillip Yost again kicked off for a touchback, and Erik Ainge was back in for the Vols. A couple of good passes to Bret Smith and Cedric Houston got the UT offense moving, sandwiched around some tough running. A sneak by Ainge picked up a first down at the Auburn 46. Another Ainge throw got the Vols to the Tiger 33, but that was as far as they’d go. On the next play Travis Williams intercepted a short throw, and Auburn had the ball back, at their own 30.
With only 2:05 left in the half, everyone watching figured that Tommy Tuberville would run the clock out with dive plays and quarterback kneel downs. Instead, Al Borges dialed up a play-action, throw-back screen to Ronnie Brown. It was well-conceived, and even more well-blocked. Brown rumbled down the sideline for 38 yards, to the UT 30. Auburn then handed off to Williams for a loss of one, then tried the screen again, to no avail. You’re not going to get the same trick to work twice against John Chavis! On 3rd and 11, Campbell dropped back, and fired a liner down the middle, to Courtney Taylor underneath the safeties. Taylor knifed through the defenders, and into the end zone for an astonishing, punctuating touchdown! John Vaughn converted another extra point, and now the Tigers were up by a shocking 31-3 margin, in Neyland Stadium, with only 52 seconds left in the half!
Two Cedric Houston runs later, the half was over, with Auburn leading big, 31-3! Despite the big lead, anyone who knew Tennessee football, and Phillip Fulmer, knew the Vols would come out fighting.
James Wilhoit kicked off for a touchback, and Auburn promptly went 3 and out. Two short passes, then a miss on 3rd and 3, sent Kody Bliss in for his first punt of the evening. Bliss bombed it for 53 yards, downed at the UT 20.
With Eric Ainge, the Vols put together a long, 11 play drive to a 3rd and goal at the Tiger 8 yard line. Then, Ainge tried to float one to the back of the endzone. Junior Rosegreen climbed the ladder, and snared the wobbling ball out of the air, for an interception, and a touchback!
Auburn knocked out one first down on the ground with Carnell Williams, then the Vols shut it down. A missed throw on 3rd and long brought Bliss back in. Bliss hit it short, this time, and Jonathan Hefney brought it back out to the Vol 37. Brent Schaeffer came in, and passed the Vols to a first down just over midfield, but a holding penalty backed it up. The Vols were unable to overcome that, and Colquitt boomed it to the Auburn 15, where it was fair-caught by Tre Smith. Auburn again went 3 and out, and another short Bliss punt set Tennessee up at the 47.
Tennessee went back to Eric Ainge, and survived a false start on the first play of the drive. A ridiculous, phantom interference call on Carlos Rogers gave the Vols a first down. An incidental facemask on Bret Eddins gave the Vols another. Then, Gerald Riggs bolted through the Auburn defense for 26 yards, and a first down at the Auburn 4 yard line, AND the Tigers were flagged for the late hit out of bounds. The Vols tried to punch Riggs in, but Quentin Groves and Will Herring stuffed him for nothing, and the 3rd quarter ended, with Auburn still leading, 31-3. On the first play of the 4th quarter, Ainge hit Cory Anderson for the touchdown. James Wilhoit added the PAT, and Tennessee had made the score 31-10, Auburn, with 14:57 left in the game.
Wilhoit kicked off short, and Devin Aromashodu took off on a big return, taking it all the way to the Vol 41. The SEC referees came up with another strange call, an illegal block on the kicking team. How that could be, no one could answer! But the phantom penalty gave Auburn 1st and 10 at the UT 26. Ronnie Brown bashed out one first down, but could go nowhere after that. A screen to Carnell Williams was sniffed out well by the Vols, and Auburn brought in John Vaughn. Vaughn nailed the 29 yarder, and Auburn led 34-10, with 10:48 left in the game.
Tennessee came out throwing after a Yost touchback, but it ended at midfield, with Junior Rosegreen grabbing his THIRD interception of the day. Auburn went conservative, pounding Carnell Williams and eating clock. Auburn ate over 4 minutes off the clock, and ended up 4th and 6 at the Vol 22. Tuberville elected to go for it, but Campbell’s pass was deflected and intercepted by Roshaun Fellows, who took it to the 18.
Eric Ainge started shredding the Auburn secondary, driving the Vols down to the Auburn 30. Then, Junior Rosegreen got his FOURTH interception of the night, on an errant throw. Auburn sent in Brandon Cox, and Carl Stewart, and ran most of the clock off. Kody Bliss’ punt was the last play of the game, as Carlos Rogers yanked down Jonathan Hefney to end it. Auburn had gone to Knoxville, and slammed the Tennessee Vols, 34-10, in a dominating performance!
Give the Vols credit. They did NOT stay down! The Orange nation picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and traveled to Athens, Georgia, to play the high-flying, league-leading Georgia Bulldogs. When that day was done, Tennessee had beaten the Dawgs, 19-14, and had taken control of the SEC East race. A 4-game Vol win streak stopped at homecoming, with a 17-13 loss to Notre Dame. Even worse, both of the Vol freshmen quarterbacks were out for the year with injuries. Again, there was no quit in Tennessee. Behind 3rd teamer Rick Clausen, the Vols rallied to knock off Vandy and Kentucky, and earned an undisputed SEC Eastern Division title.
Auburn, after blowing Tennessee out, was rolling at 5-0. Even the most skeptical of Auburn fans was starting to believe. Auburn rolled through the middle part of the schedule, blowing teams out right and left! In Oxford, Auburn clinched the SEC Western Division, before Halloween was even over. With the 35-14 win over the Ole Miss Rebels, it was fated that the Tigers and Vols would meet again, in the Georgia Dome.
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