Want another good omen for Tennessee football on Saturday? This is just the second time ever that the Vols were undefeated getting set to face a team coached by Nick Saban. The first time just so happened to be the only win they have ever enjoyed against Saban.
Go back to 2001. The Vols were 2-0 and ranked No. 7. Heading into Rocky Top were the LSU Tigers, who were also 2-0, and ranked No. 14. It was the first game in three weeks for both teams because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
At the time, LSU was an up and coming program in its second year under Saban. Tennessee football was at its peak, though, and looking for revenge after the Tigers upset the Vols in Baton Rouge, La., the year before.
Although LSU scored first and the Vols’ offense sputtered, they went off in the second half. Kelley Washington set a school record with 256 receiving yards in a game, and he and Casey Clausen helped the Vols build a 26-7 lead. They held onto win 26-18.
Want another huge omen? Washington wore No. 15. Bru McCoy also wears No. 15 and will likely be the Vols’ go-to wideout in this game with Cedric Tillman banged up. He has had over 100 yards receiving in each of the past two games.
Of course, later in 2001, ranked No. 2 and after upsetting the Florida Gators the week before, the Vols lost a rematch to LSU in the SEC Championship game. That remains the worst loss in program history, as it cost the Vols a trip to the national title.
LSU was far worse in that title game, they were trailing 17-7 and they had lost their quarterback and their running back. Somehow, they won 31-20. However, Tennessee football wasn’t undefeated in that matchup, as they had lost 26-24 to an inferior Georgia Bulldogs team a week after that win over LSU.
UT didn’t play LSU again until 2005, after Saban left for the NFL, and the Vols have never been undefeated while facing him at Alabama. Their only other time in the top 10 was 2016, but they lost to the Texas A&M Aggies in overtime the week before and were banged up for this one, stumbling to a 49-10 loss.
Perhaps with all of these facts, it’s fitting that Tennessee football would face LSU and then Saban in back to back weeks. After all, last week was the first time since Saban arrived at LSU in 2000 that they were facing the Tigers while undefeated since that 2001 showdown.
That would be another great sign for the Vols, as they dominated the game with a 40-13 win. LSU may not be Alabama, but they have talent, Brian Kelly is a good coach, and that games was down in Baton Rouge while this game is in Knoxville.
Rocky Top could be en route to its best season since that 2001 campaign, and a win over Saban and Alabama may just solidify it. There’s Peyton Manning to Joey Kent to end the streak to Alabama in 1995. Clausen to Washington is for their one win over Saban. Maybe it’ll be Hendon Hooker to McCoy Saturday.