Sept. 26, 2013
Each Thursday, Brian Rice will take a look back at the Lowe's #DefiningMoments. A top-ranked team and a Heisman favorite were no match for the heart of a Volunteer team that spent an entire season exceeding expectations.
By Brian Rice
Tennessee 38, #1 Auburn 20 - September 28, 1985
On paper, Tennessee didn't stand a chance on an early fall afternoon in 1985. The deck was stacked, the die was cast. ABC television cameras were coming to Knoxville for the latest chapter of The Bo Jackson Show as his top-ranked Tigers came to Neyland Stadium. A national TV audience was expecting a coronation for Jackson. What they got was a breakout performance by the Volunteers.
Tennessee entered the game having tied No. 10 UCLA a week earlier. Jackson averaged 248 yards on his own in Auburn wins over Southwestern Louisiana and Southern Mississippi. The hype for a Heisman Trophy campaign was already reaching a fever pitch on the Plains and across the southeast.
"Some of the guys got to talking," receiver Tim McGee said prior to the game. "We got to wondering, 'With the TV coming to see Bo and all, do you think they might show us ?'"
Quarterback Tony Robinson engineered an opening drive that covered 76 yards, 72 of which were provided by Robinson's arm or feet. After an Auburn turnover, a 37-yard TD pass from Robinson to McGee put the Vols up 14-0. Another Robinson TD pass and a Carlos Reveiz field goal had the Volunteers up 24-0 at the half, with Jackson held quiet on the field, limited to 29 yards in the opening half by the Tennessee defense.
By the time the Tigers broke through for 20 fourth-quarter points, Jackson had taken himself out of the lineup with a sore knee. He finished the game with 80 yards on 17 carries and no touchdowns.
For his part, McGee made the ABC cameras put him front and center. The senior captain from Cleveland, Ohio hauled in six catches for 163 yards and a touchdown. Fellow senior Robinson followed up a 387-yard performance against UCLA with 259 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers.
"I think we played as well as we can play against a good football team," head coach Johnny Majors said. "It was fabulous from every standpoint."
The win was just the second in program history over a top-ranked team and first by a UT team that was unranked at the time of the game. Tennessee's only other win over a No. 1 team was a 14-13 victory over LSU in 1959.
The Volunteers found themselves in the national rankings the next week, where they stayed for the rest of the season. UT would suffer its lone loss of the season two weeks later at Florida, but would rally to claim the program's first Southeastern Conference Championship since 1969. UT finished the season ranked fourth in the AP poll after a 35-7 thrashing of second-ranked Miami in the Sugar Bowl.