Tennessee Football: Vols’ 10 Greatest Wins With Verne Lundquist Calling the Game
Verne Lundquist began doing the SEC on CBS in 2000 and called many Tennessee football games. Here are the Volunteers’ 10 best wins with him in the booth.
Saturday’s Army-Navy game will be Verne Lundquist’s final broadcast for college football on CBS. His first year was 2000, and his first game in Knoxville was the 2000 Tennessee-Florida game, where the infamous Jabar Gaffney non-catch happened.
Now, 16 years later, he has been with the Home Depot’s SEC on CBS from the time the Vols were still in their peak to when they collapsed to now, as they try to get back to relevance.
Lundquist spent six years with Todd Blackledge as the color commentator and another 11 with Gary Danielson.
Although Tennessee never won an SEC Championship with him calling a game, it did have some thrilling wins on his watch.
Dating back to the games he was covering with Todd Blackledge, the Vols enjoyed some of the most memorable wins in school history in front of Verne Lundquist.
Unfortunately, as the program went through a dry spell, they had a long losing streak in front of him that began in 2006 and lasted to 2015.
However, there were amazing wins after and before that streak that deserve to be recognized as he gets set to call it a career in broadcasting college football games.
Here, we are going to take a look at some of those exciting wins that Tennessee had in front of Verne. As we analyze them, they will be based on the feeling in the moment, not the way the season went after them.
With that in mind, these are the Top 10 Tennessee football victories in front of Verne Lundquist during his 16-year career.
10. 2002: Tennessee Volunteers vs South Carolina Gamecocks
Final Score: Tennessee 18 South Carolina 10
It was one of two bright spots in what was otherwise a disappointing year. Yes, back in the early 2000s, going 8-5 was disappointing for Tennessee football.
Anyway, the Vols had started 2002 in the Top 5, but a hard bite from the injury bug combined with the loss of a ton of talent hurt the team in the middle of the season. Going into Columbia, Phillip Fulmer was still in search of his 100th victory while his team had fallen to 4-3 on the year with losses to Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.
Losing all three games always means a disappointing season.
Anyway, Tennessee marched into South Carolina with both teams in roughly the same position. And Lou Holtz’s team was more than capable of pulling off the upset.
The Gamecocks took an early lead with a field goal, but with Casey Clausen playing hurt, the Vols took control after that. They relied on Cedric Houston all day, and he had a career-high 108 yards rushing.
Clausen hit C.J. Fayton on a short touchdown pass in the first to give the Vols a 6-3 lead after a missed Alex Walls extra point. However, he nailed two more field goals to make it 12-3.
South Carolina cut it to 12-10 in the fourth quarter, but Clausen stretched the lead on a fourth-down bootleg, and he carried the ball in for a touchdown. Walls missed another extra point, but the defense held.
Tennessee won 18-10, and Fulmer got his elusive 100th victory.
9. 2006 Tennessee Volunteers vs Alabama Crimson Tide
Final Score: Tennessee 16 Alabama 13
This was the first season that Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson were calling games. At the time, Tennessee was 5-1 and coming off a bye week, with their only loss a 21-10 heartbreaker to the Florida Gators.
The Vols were back in play for the SEC East, though, after Florida had lost to the Auburn Tigers the week before. And they were in the national championship picture.
But a reeling Alabama Crimson Tide team in Mike Shula’s fourth year was always going to be difficult.
So they came into Knoxville and frustrated the Vols with tough defense all day. Tennessee’s defense held Alabama in check, but Erik Ainge could not find the end zone. He and the Vols’ offense committed three turnovers and were held without a touchdown for three quarters and 13 minutes.
Meanwhile, Alabama took advantage of Tennessee’s mistakes to build a 13-9 lead. James Wilhoit’s leg was the only thing keeping the Vols afloat.
But finally, late in the fourth, after a pass interference call, Tennessee got the ball inside the Alabama five-yard line.
Arian Foster, who had been shut down all game, forced his way into the end zone to give the Vols a late lead, and the stadium erupted.
Tennessee had pulled out a hard-fought victory in another rivalry game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
It’s the last win they got in the series, and it would be the last win the Vols enjoyed in front of Verne Lundquist for nearly a decade. Nobody knew those facts at the time, though.
8. 2004: Tennessee Volunteers vs Alabama Crimson Tide
Final Score: Tennessee 17 Alabama 13
Another Tennessee vs Alabama game is obviously going to be on here. Now this win wasn’t as thrilling as the one in 2006, but the meaning behind it is what made this one so great.
Sure, the Crimson Tide were a mediocre team this year under Mike Shula as well and had a backup quarterback.
But the bitterness in the rivalry had peaked during this year. That offseason, information surfaced that Phillip Fulmer played a huge role in the Albert Means scandal that put Alabama on probation in 2001 and 2002.
Tide fans hated the Vols more than ever after that, especially given the fact that the Vols had won eight of nine against them at that point.
Then came the news that Fulmer could be subpoenaed to testify in the case against him where he was accused of conspiring with the NCAA to bring down the Tide program. As a result, he took the bold move of skipping SEC Media Days that year, which angered Alabama fans and energized Tennessee fans.
This was all boiling over when the rivalry resumed later that year in Knoxville. Even in a down year, Alabama was going to put everything on the line to win the game.
With a freshman quarterback in Erik Ainge, Fulmer relied on John Chavis and the Tennessee defense to win the game. They forced a turnover and scored a touchdown on the second play of the game.
In a defensive struggle, the Vols got one more touchdown and a field goal. But Alabama kept fighting.
And with the ball late in the game, Spencer Pennington had a chance to win it. But the Tennessee defense held, and the Vols were able to run out the clock with a 17-13 victory.
Knowing what the win meant for the rivalry at that time combined with the fact that they were in complete control of the SEC East at that point made this a victory more thrilling than anybody could imagine.
7. 2015: Tennessee Volunteers vs Georgia Bulldogs
Final Score: Tennessee 38 Georgia 31
This game was considered the turning point for the Tennessee football program under Butch Jones in the positive way…until the second half of this season.
But that’s for another post.
Focusing on the Tennessee-Georgia game of 2015, it represented everything about the Vols. They had fallen to 2-3 on the year and out of contention for SEC play. They were unranked. And after a preseason filled with expectations, they only had pride to play for.
Butch Jones’s seat was about to get really hot, when they had to take all of this baggage into Neyland Stadium against a Georgia Bulldogs team expected to win the SEC East.
Oh, and the Vols had not won a game in front of Verne Lundquist since 2006.
With all of this in play, Tennessee fell behind 24-3. Then came Joshua Dobbs, who made a habit of turning around games in a heartbeat.
He threw two touchdown passes and had help from a special teams turnover to cut the lead to 24-17 just before halftime.
Dobbs led the Vols with three more touchdowns in the second half, one passing and two rushing, and the defense held on by only allowing one touchdown. With the game coming down to the wire, they got a stop as time expired.
Tennessee had a turning point win for the program at that point. The momentum carried the Vols through the midway point of this 2016 season…before another collapse occurred.
6. 2004: Tennessee Volunteers vs Florida Gators
Final Score: Tennessee 30 Florida 28
Speaking of wins the Vols had not earned in a while, this was the last win Tennessee had against the Florida Gators until this year.
Going into this game, Tennessee was playing two freshman quarterbacks, while Florida was thinking about winning a national title with Chris Leak as a sophomore and Ron Zook in his third year.
The match turned into a shootout.
Florida scored first off a Tennessee turnover, but the Vols scored two more touchdowns behind Erik Ainge at quarterback. However, Florida countered with two more touchdowns to go into halftime up 21-14.
In the second half, the Gators had a chance to extend the lead to 10 points, but Matt Leach missed a 21-yard field goal. Easy missed field goals and terrible mistakes became a huge story in this game.
Tennessee’s inexperienced quarterbacks made for four turnovers on the night. They did tie the game up with a touchdown pass to Brett Smith, but then a tipped pass went for a touchdown on the other end.
The Vols tied it up after Ainge led a late touchdown drive, but James Wilhoit missed an extra point to tie.
Tennessee got a very controversial foul penalty on the next drive that stopped the clock and gave them 15 extra yards. So when Florida punted, they didn’t have to go too far.
Still, they got to the 33-yard line, and after missing an extra point, Wilhoit nailed a 50-yard field goal to give Tennessee a 30-28 win.
It would be their last win in the series for over a decade. It was also their last win in front of Verne Lundquist at night. But man, it was a thrilling one!
5. 2003: Tennessee Volunteers vs Alabama Crimson Tide
Final Score: Tennessee 51 Alabama 43 (5OT)
The only game the Vols played in front of Verne Lundquist on CBS in 2003 was one of the most thrilling wins in Tennessee football history.
The Vols were coming off of a two-game losing streak, most recently a 41-14 blowout at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs.
After that they had a bye week to correct things. The SEC East and a Top 10 finish were still in play. But they came off a bye week facing an Alabama Crimson Tide team in Mike Shula’s first year that kept losing but was staying in the game with everybody.
So the Vols knew they would be in a dog fight. And were they ever!
Unable to generate any offense for much of the game, the score was 6-3 at halftime, Alabama leading. The score could’ve been worse, but Jason Allen, in his coming out party, blocked a field goal when the Tide were inside the Tennessee two-yard line and could have scored a touchdown had they gone for it.
In the second half, a James Banks touchdown gave the Vols a 10-6 lead. But Alabama scored two more touchdowns while the Vols could only get a field goal. Still, there’s that blocked field goal inside the 5 in the first half.
Then, the Vols got a fourth down stop on the goal line in the second half that made a huge difference. Finally, with Alabama only needing two yards to run out the clock and having three chances to get it late, Tennessee held all three times, forcing the Tide to punt.
That’s when Casey Clausen came alive. He led the Vols on a late scoring drive to send the game in overtime.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first two overtimes. In one of those overtimes, Clausen had to convert a 4th and 19 to keep the game alive, one of the most famous plays in Tennessee football history.
After trading a field goal and touchdowns in the third and fourth overtimes respectively, the Vols finally held in the fifth. They scored a touchdown and stopped Alabama thanks to Jason Allen knocking away a fourth down pass.
Tennessee held onto win for their most exciting victory in the rivalry. The win propelled them to a strong finish, at 10-2, including a huge win over the Miami Hurricanes on the road when they were elite at the time, and a share of the SEC East title.
4. 2004: Tennessee Volunteers vs Georgia Bulldogs
Final Score: Tennessee 19 Georgia 14
Normally, Alabama victories can be more fun than Georgia victories. But the 2004 version of Tennessee vs Georgia was a different case.
At the time, the Bulldogs were the Vols’ greatest nemesis. After all, they had kept Tennessee from winning the East each of the previous two years and were on a four-game winning streak against them.
This year, David Greene’s senior year, they were supposed to compete for a national title. Tennessee was supposed to be rebuilding.
And with all of this in play, both teams were coming into this game feeling exactly different. Tennessee had just suffered a 34-10 blowout loss at home to the Auburn Tigers. Georgia had just come off a 45-16 blowout win over the defending national champion LSU Tigers and was undefeated.
So this game in Athens was sure to be a dominating Georgia victory right? Wrong!
Georgia was a 12-point favorite, and Phillip Fulmer made a habit of shocking Top 5 teams on the road in the early 2000s, and this game was no different. His Vols marched into Athens with Erik Ainge as a freshman quarterback and scored a touchdown on the first drive.
They took a 10-0 lead right out of the gate.
Georgia cut it to 10-7 with a touchdown pass from D.J. Shockley, but when David Greene came back in the game, he couldn’t do anything.
The Vols scored another touchdown in the second half to extend the lead to 19-7 and tried to run out the clock.
But it was still almost too soon. Georgia scored late to make it to 19-14 and got inside the Tennessee 30 with a second left and a chance for one more heave. But Greene did not convert, and the Vols walked away with a huge upset win over the Dawgs.
That win propelled them to the SEC East title in 2004.
3. 2016: Tennessee Volunteers vs Georgia Bulldogs
Final Score: Tennessee 34 Georgia 31
In terms of the magnitude of the win, the 2004 Tennessee-Georgia game was way bigger than this one. But this one was so thrilling that it had to be on here.
So let’s revisit just a couple of months ago, when Tennessee football was higher than ever under Butch Jones. The Vols had just come off a thrilling win to get to 4-0.
And in this game, they fell behind early 17-0. But we had seen enough of the Vols to this point to know that they made a habit of coming back from three-score deficits.
So nobody panicked, especially when Joshua Dobbs made it 17-7 at halftime with an impressive late touchdown. Tennessee scored early in the second half to make it 17-14 as well.
But unlike other teams, Georgia would just not quit on the Vols.
They extended the lead to 24-14 in the third with another touchdown. Then the real fun began.
The Vols cut it to 24-21 in the fourth quarter. However, they couldn’t take the lead on two other offensive drives.
But with Georgia pinned inside its 5-yard line, the defense gave the Vols the lead this time. Derek Barnett had a strip-sack that resulted in a touchdown, giving the Vols a 28-24 lead.
Tennessee thought they had the game in hand after an interception the next drive. But they couldn’t run out the clock, and Georgia scored with 10 seconds left to take a 31-28 lead.
But thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a great return by Evan Berry, Tennessee had a chance for one final heave.
Dobbs came out and hit Jauan Jennings for a Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired in what might have been the greatest play in school history.
At that point, nobody could have been riding higher than Tennessee football at 5-0. However, the win was obviously short-lived, as the Vols collapsed down the stretch of the season thanks to a slew of injuries.
But at this moment, nothing felt better.
2. 2016: Tennessee Volunteers vs Florida Gators
Final Score: Tennessee 38 Florida 28
You could make the argument that this game and the Georgia game should be reversed. But beating the Florida Gators means more, and given everything going into this game, it meant a lot.
The Vols had not beaten Florida since 2004 going into this game, and their 11-game losing streak included three one-point losses in which they had two-score leads in the second half.
Two of those one-point losses happened each of the previous two years, and the 2015 loss involved the Gators coming back from a 27-14 deficit by converting four fourth downs, including a fourth and 15 late in the game.
So yeah, Tennessee football fans felt snake-bitten. And then, it only got worse. A series of Vols mistakes in the first half allowed the Gators to jump out to a 21-0 lead.
Tennessee went into halftime down 21-3. They then had a turnover on the opening drive of the second half.
But that’s when the defense came through. They got one three-and-out, and the Vols got life with a touchdown on the next drive.
Two more defensive stops and one more Tennessee touchdown pass had cut it to 21-17.
Then, the Vols got another defensive stop. And on the next play, Joshua Dobbs hit Jauan Jennings for a bomb that gave the Vols a 24-21 lead. That touchdown was the best because it came against Jalen Tabor, who had been talking trash about Tennessee all offseason.
The next drive, the defense got an interception, and Dobbs hit Josh Malone for a touchdown. The Vols had a 10-point lead, and after another stop, they turned to the running game to embarrass another Florida trash-talker, Quincy Wilson.
Tennessee eventually made it 38-21 and held on to win 38-28. This was a huge victory for Tennessee football, and Verne Lundquist, who had called the last Vols’ win against the Gators, knew it.
Ending the streak meant everything to the program.
But as big as it was, it’s still not the biggest win even over Florida that Tennessee football had in front of Verne Lundquist.
That goes to our next one.
1. 2001: Tennessee Volunteers vs Florida Gators
Final Score: Tennessee 34 Florida 32
Yes, we all remember this one. It is far and away the greatest win for Tennessee football this century, and 15 years later, it still holds up.
Let’s just forget that LSU debacle a week later.
Tennessee and Florida had rescheduled this game in The Swamp due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It would be played on Dec. 1.
But the magnitude of the game only increased with how the season went for both teams. They both entered the game at 10-1 with one bad loss each: Florida to the Auburn Tigers and Tennessee to the Georgia Bulldogs.
Still, the winner of this game would win the SEC East, and with the Gators at No. 2 and the Vols at No. 4, the winner would likely control their own destiny to play for the national championship.
Despite them being so evenly matched, idiotic oddsmakers in Las Vegas decided to set the point spread at 17 and a half for Florida. It later moved up to 18.
Rex Grossman’s record-breaking offense under Spurrier was all they could see. Meanwhile, they had known about Tennessee’s struggles with Florida, especially the fact that they had not beaten the Gators in The Swamp since 1971.
That all played a role in this spread.
And nothing could have served as a better motivator for the Vols. Behind a running back in Travis Stephens who nobody expected could carry the load at the beginning of the year, Tennessee jumped out to an early and shocking 14-0 first-quarter lead.
A series of second half mistakes, two turnovers and a missed field goal, spotted the Gators a 20-14 halftime lead.
But nobody panicked.
In the second half, Tennessee took the lead back behind a long Stephens touchdown run. And the Vols’ front four began to pressure Grossman so much that he got frustrated. Still, Jeff Chandler and the refs kept his team in it.
Chandler squeaked in a field goal to make it 23-21, and a Clausen interception in the third put the Vols in trouble. Then came the refs.
They waved off a clear Grossman fumble and called it incomplete. But Tennessee got a fourth down stop on that drive, and a long run by Stephens at the start of the fourth quarter set up a touchdown to give them a 27-23 lead on the next drive.
After missing the two, Florida had its next drive kept alive by the refs as well. Grossman had another fumble, but the refs ruled that he was down on a sack.
Chandler nailed a 52-yarder on that drive, keeping the Gators in at 27-26.
But on the highlight offensive play of the year, with Florida fans getting loud the next drive, Stephens took a carry for 68 yards on the first play from scrimmage. That run gave him 220 on the night against what was supposed to be an elite Florida rush defense.
Tennessee scored a touchdown on that drive.
But it still wasn’t over.
Thanks to bad refereeing and a dumb decision by Fulmer to go for two earlier, the Gators had a chance to tie the game late. Grossman hit Carlos Perez to make it 34-32.
But the defense made one final stop on the two-point play, and then John Finlayson had the greatest catch in onside kick history to preserve the 34-32 victory for Tennessee.
They had squeaked by in a thrilling victory in front of Verne Lundquist, and as he goes off into retirement, even he will tell you that 2001 Tennessee-Florida was the greatest Vols’ win he had ever covered.
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