Tennessee players recall the joyful exception to their disappointing season

Riley Ridley-Georgia-hail mary
This photo of Georgia's Riley Ridley catching a go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds left was chosen to go with this story, rather than ... well, you know.

HOOVER, Ala. – Advisory to Georgia football fans: You might want to skip over the first few paragraphs to this story. They recount a memory that remains hurtful to many of you who read this site.

Unfortunately, that moment was brought up several times here Monday at SEC media days. So it will be recounted here briefly, and you will be notified when it is safe to read again.

Tennessee cornerback Emmanuel Moseley was on the visiting bench at Sanford Stadium, sitting next to teammate Jalen Reeves-Maybin. They were sure they had just given up a demoralizing last-second touchdown to Georgia that had cost them the game. Their offense was on the field for its own last-second Hail Mary try.

“I closed my eyes,” Moseley said. “When I noticed that he caught the ball I ran on the field, and went up and hugged him. It was such a great play.”

Jauan Jennings had hauled in an improbable 43-yard touchdown as time expired, and Tennessee had shocked Georgia, 34-31.

“That was probably the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” linebacker Kendal Vickers said. “I got up out of my seat and threw my helmet. I don’t remember where it went. Just the joy we felt after that game, and the disbelief we saw in all the Georgia fans, it was crazy.”

OK, it’s safe to resume reading again.

So yes, Tennessee took its turn on the first day of the SEC Media Days gauntlet, and while much of the day was about disappointment – how the Vols have yet to capitalize and win the SEC East – that moment last year …

Sorry, may need to look away again. Just one paragraph.

… Proved to give Tennessee its highlight of an otherwise down season, and reinforced that the Vols have switched the mojo in a series that had been dominated by Georgia.

“I’d say we have,” Moseley said, before falling back into the old cliché of taking it one at a time, etc.

Verbal tripe has been a thing lately for the Volunteers, whose coach has become the source of derision for some of those utterances. Butch Jones capped it off late last season when he said his players had been “champions of life.”

Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings (15) outjumps Dominick Sanders (24) and a host of other Bulldogs to haul in the game winner as time expired against Georgia in 2016. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Moseley was asked about that on Monday. He laughed briefly before answering.

“Coach Jones said that. You can’t look at the criticism,” Moseley said. “Basically he wanted us to be better [people] off the field. Great people in life. That’s what I took from it.”

Jones, now entering his fifth season at Tennessee – where he has tried to rebuild the program “brick by brick” – seemed to avoid that pitfall during his tour on Monday. But he came close when asked if he viewed last season, when the team finished 9-4, as a disappointment.

“I don’t view it as a disappointment. The way I view it is we didn’t accomplish everything we set ourselves out to. And, again, our goal every year is to win a championship and compete to win a championship,” Jones said.

“So, was it a disappointment? No. Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely. We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better.”

Jones added that his team started 5-0, with the first four wins coming against teams that won their divisions. Alas, Georgia was the fifth game, and it did not win its division.

Jones might have issued some talking points to his players, as evidenced by offensive lineman Jashon Robertson’s response when asked about Jones possibly being on the hot seat.

“We’re one of three teams who have had back-to-back nine-game winning seasons. Also, we won three consecutive bowl games, and that hadn’t been done at the University of Tennessee in 20 years,” Robertson said. “That’s  a lot of positives.”

Actually, the best positive could be that Jones has elevated the program, after about a decade of struggle, to the point that there is pressure. And …

Look away, Georgia fans.

… After losing five in a row to Georgia, the Volunteers can now boast a two-game winning streak. And as much of a disappointment as last year might have been, the Vols still have that Hail Mary.

“I’m definitely going to remember that for the rest of my life,” Vickers said. “That specific play.”


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