A Big Orange Tuesday on Rocky Top
Yes they can. And yes they did. And yes, it was wonderful.
On a night to remember, when the Tennessee Volunteers looked as if they were on the verge of a meltdown, Rick Clausen rose phoenix-like from the ashes to salvage the season as the Vols stunned LSU, 30-27.
It was a game for the ages. But it sure didn't start out that way.
The Vols found themselves down 21-0 at halftime. It could have been a lot worse.
Sophomore quarterback Erik Ainge looked confused, scared and downright ineffective. His two turnovers (a fumble and an intercepted pass...well, lob) had led to 14 LSU points.
Ainge was thrown to the ground after the interception and popped something in his back. The Vols slithered to the dressing room down 21 after barely preventing another Tigers score at the end of the half when time ran out.
Enter Rick Clausen.
The senior quarterback came in off the bench after intermission and put the Vols offense on his shoulders. His mere presence turned the offense into a completely different team.
Suddenly the Vols were moving down the field. Gerald Riggs was running for gains. Receivers were catching passes.
Clausen guided the Vols to two long scoring drives in the second half before safety Jonathan Hefney intercepted a pass and returned the ball 25 yards. It set up a one yard touchdown run by Riggs to put Tennessee within three.
James Wilhoit hit a 28-yard field goal with 2:02 remaining in regulation to tie the game. The boisterous Death Valley crowd sat silent and stunned.
Tennessee won the toss in overtime and opted to go on defense. The Vol D stiffened. LSU had to settle for a 31-yard field goal.
Once Tennessee got the football, it was all Riggs and Clausen. Riggs took it in on third down at the LSU one. The Vols earned a win.
And a new quarterback.