Interviews with coaches and players
Tennessee Stat Book
- Report card: Tennessee vs. Auburn
- Adams: No review needed to make QB change
- Defense won't blame offense: 'We're a football team. We're family. We try to find good in people rather than digging in sores'
- Cunningham finally kicks into gear
- Offense squanders great field position
- Auburn's defense rescues offense
AUBURN, Ala. - Murphy's Law applies in football, too.
The story of Tennessee's 2008 season has been monumental mistakes and Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium against No. 15 Auburn was no different.
Give the Vols credit for reducing the number of killer mistakes. But when they made one, it was at the worst possible time with the worst possible result.
On a day when points and even first downs were at a premium, Auburn (4-1, 2-1 SEC) prevailed 14-12 by capitalizing on a gift-wrapped, goof-wrapped touchdown.
Auburn's Jake Ricks recovered a Tennessee fumble in the end zone for a second-quarter touchdown and that turned out to be the winning points.
As a result, UT falls to 1-3 for the first time since 1994. Worse, the Vols open SEC play 0-2 for the first time since 2000.
In all three losses, Tennessee has given up a touchdown on special teams or via a turnover.
"We play as a team, we win as a team and we lose as a team,'' said UT coach Phillip Fulmer. "That was a very disappointing loss.''
Last week in a 30-6 loss to Florida, Tennessee's offense turned over the ball twice inside the Gators' 2-yard line to thwart scoring opportunities.
Saturday, disaster came at the other end of the field.
Tennessee took over at its 5 after an Auburn punt. The Vols had just gotten a pair of Daniel Lincoln field goals to cut the Tigers' lead to 7-6.
With a sell-out crowd of 87,451 roaring, the Vols lined up on first down, Arian Foster in the end zone behind quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
"We'd just been in the huddle,'' said Fulmer. "We talked about all the things we try to teach in practice.
"This was a very safe running play, a handoff you do lots and lots of times. You've just got to take care of the little things.''
Oh, the little things.
Last week Crompton fumbled a handoff attempt to Foster at the goal line when the ball hit blocker Kevin Cooper before it got to Foster.
This time, there was no middle man. Crompton's handoff never got tucked away by Foster and squirted to the grass, just inside the end zone.
Ricks fell on it for the touchdown.
"It was just like one of our drills from practice,'' said Ricks, "except that this time it ended up as a touchdown.''
No one from UT was sure exactly which of the little things went wrong.
"Until I see the film I can't really say,'' Fulmer said. "From what the guys on TV said, Arian didn't quite have his elbow up enough. I don't know.''
Crompton and offensive coordinator Dave Clawson also said they'd have to look at the tape.
At any rate, Auburn led 14-6.
That was enough - barely.
Tennessee's only touchdown came on a second-half drive following Dennis Rogan's interception and 38-yard return to the Auburn 37.
Montario Hardesty scored on a 2-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Down 14-12, the Vols went for the two-point conversion to tie.
Crompton's pass to Gerald Jones was complete - a rarity this day - but Auburn wrestled Jones down short of the goal line.
From that point on, Tennessee had four possessions starting with excellent field position - thanks to a defense playing lights out - but could not punch out a single first down.
"I brought (kicker) Daniel (Lincoln) up at the end of the game,'' said Fulmer, "and said, 'You're going to win this game. Get loose and stay close.' ''
Lincoln never got a shot. The Vols' offense was so anemic it couldn't get him close enough. Those four possessions produced a combined 12 yards.
Chad Cunningham's 10th punt came with 3 minutes to play. Auburn, backed up at its 5, converted one first down with 2:04 on the clock and that was enough to salt away the win.
UT finished with only 191 yards of total offense, managed only nine first downs and went 4-of-16 on third-down conversions.
Crompton was 8-of-23 passing.
"We played a better defensive team today than we played last week, and that's not to take anything away from Florida necessarily,'' Fulmer said.
"We played on the road and we handled ourselves better in a lot of ways, as far as mistakes.
"But that one is enough to get you beat against a good team.''
Auburn has its own offensive issues. The Tigers' only offensive score was an 18-yard touchdown pass from Chris Todd to Robert Dunn in the first quarter.
From that point forward, Auburn got little done and finished with only 226 yards.
"It's hard to imagine two defenses would play like that,'' said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "But we found a way to win.
"That's exactly what you have to do. You have to find a way to win sometimes.''
Sometimes, you find a way to lose. That's been Tennessee's story.
"We're just killing ourselves,'' said center Josh McNeil. "We keep doing the same thing, week in, week out. Huge turnovers, points.''
Someone wondered if the Vols were just snake-bit.
"Snake-bit, maybe,'' said McNeil, "but we keep doing it to ourselves.''
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276.