Dictionary.com describes the term "Magnum Opus" such as this:
a great work, especially the chief work of a writer or artist:
Proust's magnum opus is Remembrance of Things Past.
For a UT student, this would be a complete revelation of years spent on the Hill. This is my sixth (6th) season as a Vol. I suppose you could call me a redshirt fifth year. Switching majors and general laziness have allowed me to develop a great and thorough appreciation for Knoxville, the Fort, the Strip, the university, and of course our beloved football program. Without making this piece too much about me, I'd like to explore it in the six years I've been paying tuition, one-by-one, and see if we can't trace the directions it took.
[note: I will be including (lol) after things that reflect our struggles in retrospect]
I entered the university coming off a disastrous season in 2005, one in which Phillip Fulmer was losing more and more support among fans. The Vols went 5-7 that year, with the only bright spot being an overtime win in Baton Rouge over eventual SEC West Champion LSU. I
. Erik Ainge and Robert Meachem developed an instant chemistry, as Meach turned a couple of zero routes into long touchdowns. The Bears had a freshman (Syd-Quan Thompson) matched up against Meachem, and it was a point of emphasis that Cutcliffe smartly exploited. Tennessee arrived on the scene in a big way with a 35-18 pounding. I distinctly remember posting on my friend Levi's (huge Auburn fan) facebook wall:
To this day it's still the best atmosphere I've witnessed at Neyland. First ever game in the student section.
What followed was a coming-to-earth set of games which included heartbreaking home losses to Florida (Mapu roughing the passer), LSU (JaMarcus Russell non-fumble), and a road loss to Arkansas in which redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton started for an injured Ainge. In between came wins at Georgia (51-33, Foster scores 3 TD's), at home against Alabama (16-13 snoozer), and at home against South Carolina. The Vols would go on to take care of Kentucky and Vandy to finish the regular season 9-3.
There was an underwhelming invite to the Outback Bowl, where Arian Foster fumbled the game away to Penn State.
END OF SEASON OUTLOOK: 9-4 (5-3) 2nd in the East, #17 final ranking
While it will forever be unknown to the common Vol fan just how hot Phil's seat was after 2005, we can all agree it was warm at least. 2006 went a long way in restoring some faith in his ability to get the program back on track. The Vols scored 362 points that year, up from an abysmal 205 in '05. Meachem was the feature player in the offense and one of the very best receivers in the country. Ainge rebounded decently from a horrid '05 season, but was uncomfortable in the pocket to the degree that Cut rarely had him in more than three step drop. The RB stable was loaded with two NFLers in Foster and Hardesty, and yet the carry distribution went Coker (108), Hardesty (107), Foster (91). Coker also led in yards with 696. Hmmm.....
Crazy stat: Coker had 2 of the 5 longest running plays in UT history in '06, an 89 yarder vs. Marshall and an 87 yarder vs. Vandy.
NFL Draftees: 6 (Harrell, Meachem, Sears, McBride, Wade, Mitchell)
Signing Class: 3rd ranked overall (Rivals), 32 signees, 12 future contributors (Berry, Moore, Rogan, Jones, Walker, Willingham, McKenzie, Frazier, Vereen, Anderson, Evans, Martin)
Trending: UP (silver lining: Urban arrived that year and won a 'ship immediately, signed the number one class)
Despite losing a tough one in the bowl game, '07 was met with some optimism due to the great signing class (lol) and a good bit of returning talent. Having spanked Cal the year before, it was time for a trip out west to open the season. I watched this game at Norris Lake with an injured Ben Martin (lol), Donald Langley and Todd Campbell. I always complained about Arian being slow back then (lol), and I remember Martin saying "I know man, 'Tario is the truth."
I somewhat expected a win, and Cal proceeded to nearly hang 50 on us in a deflating opener. That carried over to the Swamp, where Tebow (and Cam Newton) nearly hung 60 on us and consequently dropped us from the rankings. The Vols headed into the always tough October stretch sitting at 2-2 with wins over Southern Miss and Arkansas State. At that point it was looking pretty bleak.
However, Fulmer and Co. really turned it on, losing only one more game during the regular season. Good wins against 12th ranked Georgia, 15th ranked South Carolina (overtime, Lincoln game winner (lol)), and Kentucky (4OTs, clinch East).
That one loss came at Alabama, 41-17.
Now, we all remember this game...it's when the staff "forgot" about Montario Hardesty. They literally forgot that a future NFL tailback, who, if given the ball might help you win, had made the trip to Tuscaloosa. But that's not the half of it. Let's break it down.
Opening kickoff, Bama successfully executes a surprise onsides. Great. They drive down for a field goal. Now, take a look at our first drive:
Just abysmal. On Bama's next drive, JPW takes them down the field for a touchdown. 10-0. We get the ball back, smarten up, give Foster the ball 5 times and he goes for 39 yards and a touchdown on the drive. 10-7. Bama proceeds to miss a field goal, and what do we do? Open with Coker in the backfield.
Foster comes back in, catches one in the flats and takes it 53 yards to the Bama 11. Ainge throws one to Stocker for the score, 14-10. All the momentum in the world. Defense can't get a stop, Bama grabs another touchdown, 17-14. Now, our following possession might be the most poorly coached I've ever seen. Take a look:
CREER ON THIRD AND ONE? TRUE FRESHMAN LENNON CREER ON THIRD AND ONE YARD?!?!
It baffles me to this day. Two NFL backs on the sideline. One was simply forgotten about, the other had been the only person to move the ball for us all day, and had moved it well. And they go with a true freshman scat-back. Truly mind-blowing. What happens next? You guessed, Bama goes on a back-breaking 16 play, 75 yard, 7 minute drive. And that's all she wrote.