Painful points to ponder: Georgia State and other upsets

Marvin Westwestwords

Attention! On guard! Upset alert!

OK, I’m kidding. Neither you nor I expect 28-point underdog Virginia to make it happen Saturday in Nashville but be reminded that Tennessee has, on occasions, suffered humbling football upsets.

Believe me, each was a terrible experience.

Don’t let me knock the edge off your anticipation of a rout. Ignore my caution if you so choose. If you bet, give as many points as requested, even 30 if you have a pocket full of folding money to spare.

Do take into account that I am old and have seen more than a few opponents celebrate “impossible” victories over the Volunteers.

Just four seasons ago, Georgia State was a 26.5-point underdog. Georgia State was a tasty marshmallow on the Tennessee schedule. It had never beaten a Power Five foe. The year before, it was 2-10 in the Sun Belt Conference. It had lost seven in a row.

On the last day of August 2019, Georgia State defeated Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, 38-30. The contest was not as close as the score. Visitors ran for more yards. They had more first downs. They caused and captured turnovers. They were paid $950,000 for participating.

Jeremy Pruitt should have been ashamed. It is hard to imagine that a coaching staff charged with cheating could lose like that.

A more painful upset loss was 31-20 to LSU in the 2001 SEC championship game in Atlanta – with most of the world watching. The Tigers were decent. Nick Saban was building. But Tennessee was at the top of its game, No. 2 in the country, on its way to another national championship.

The Vols created a 17-7 first-half lead. LSU lost its starting tailback and starting quarterback to injuries. Tennessee had John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth as defensive tackles.

Game over – but it wasn’t.

I didn’t know what was a Mike Mauck but he turned out to be a running quarterback, maybe the best substitute in the history of football. He ran the Vols ragged. Other things happened. Vol tailback Travis Stephens fumbled. Receiver Donte Stallworth fumbled. Julian Battle dropped an interception. After that, the great Tennessee defense crumbled.

All these years later, there is still no good explanation for this costly loss. The Vols were too good for that to have happened.

Arkansas 1992 was a bad team. It finished 3-7-1. Highlight was a 25-24 upset victory over Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. Some still say this was the worst of John Majors’ several bad losses.

On the second Saturday of that October, undefeated Tennessee was No. 4 in the country. The downtrodden Razorbacks, no threat, had a 1-4 record. They were 21-point underdogs.

The Vols, accused of looking ahead to Alabama, played ugly football and fell behind. They fought back and gained a 24-16 lead. With a little over two minutes left, they punted. Arkansas ran it back for a touchdown, 71 yards. The visitors recovered an onside kick. They converted a third-and-16 over the middle in their own territory. They kicked a 41-yard field goal with two seconds remaining. The ball grazed the right upright but, as destined, went right through.

The big crowd at Neyland was totally silent.

“We have risen from the dead,” said Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles.

1996: Memphis 21-17. My two Memphis friends remind me from time to time.

“We beat Peyton Manning!”

“I was there.”

Tennessee football was 15-0 in the series against Memphis State. Tennessee was an extremely heavy favorite in Liberty Bowl stadium.

Vols fans remember the no-whistle blown call. Kevin Cobb was clearly down on his kickoff return touchdown. There was more to the game. The Tigers shut down the Tennessee offense. Halftime was 7-7. Memphis picked off a Peyton pass, returned it to the 1 and cashed in a touchdown.

Tennessee led late by three. Memphis completed a bomb. Awful upset, awful. I can’t explain it.

In 1946, fourth-ranked Tennessee lost to Wake Forest, 19-6. It was a shocker. General Robert R. Neyland was back from military duty. Famous Vol tackles were Dick Huffman and Denver Crawford. Tennessee recovered to win the SEC championship. I missed that one.

In 1958, Chattanooga stunned the Vols, 14-6. Post-game fight erupted because Moc fans wanted to take the goal posts as souvenirs. Tennessee fans won that conflict, with help from fire hoses and police nightsticks.

In 1975, North Texas State shocked Tennessee, 21-14. Sears Woods had all three scores for the Mean Green, including a 98-yard kickoff return.

In 1979, there was a smile behind Rutgers’ 13-7 upset. Old friend Ben Byrd wrote a Saturday morning fun column titled “What is a rutgers?”

There were spirited paragraphs about how much fresh rutgers cost per pound at your friendly neighborhood Food City.

After Rutgers the football team defeated the Volunteers, a player removed a copy of the column from his shoe and announced: “Now you all know what is a Rutgers.”

Long-time domination over Vanderbilt ended in 2005. Remember Jay Cutler and 28-24?

Alas, domination over Kentucky came to a rude conclusion in 2011. The wily Wildcats used wide receiver Matt Roark at QB and won 10-7. Roark ran and ran. I still think old Vol Randy Sanders was the UK thinker behind that surprise.

Terrible upset loss at South Carolina last season. It looked like some Tennessee defenders didn’t want to be in Columbia. First chance you get, ask Jeremy Banks what caused that.

You are correct, I am not over it.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is

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