In December, Tennessee Will Look Back to Auburn Game as Turning Point

tre wellsCorrespondent IOctober 2, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 2:  Corey Campbell #26 of the Tennessee Volunteers looks at the scoreboard after losing the game 34-10 against the Auburn Tigers at Neyland Stadium on October 2, 2004 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It’s never a good morning when your car doesn’t start.


It’s especially troubling when the problem isn’t as simple as replacing an alternator or a fuel pump. These things are easily fixable at your local garage.


No, my problem was the flux capacitor.


Without any plutonium, your average flux capacitor tends to be pretty fussy. But as fortune would have it, I managed to secure some from a guy that also tried to sell me a Rolex watch for $10. I don’t think the watch was a real Rolex.


The car started, however, and before being late to work, I decided to make a pit December 2009.


While in December, I took a few moments to look back at the Tennessee football season. I also grabbed a couple of sausage biscuits.


Without giving too much of what happens away, I will tell you one thing. The Auburn Tigers game was the turning point to the season.


A year ago these two teams were mirror images of each other. Both teams were historically powerhouses that had fallen on extremely hard times. Neither offense would have scared you if it appeared in a SAW movie, and both head coaches at that point had one foot out of the door whether they knew it or not.


Both teams had decent running backs, but ironically both couldn’t, or didn’t, run the ball with any consistency. Both offenses sputtered worse than that Delorean running on leaded gas.


I remember thinking in the second half of the game last year that if Tennessee could just hold Auburn to a three and out, they’d have excellent field position to try and drive for the winning field goal.


Three plays later I remember thinking it again. Three plays later I remember thinking it again. And then, three plays later I remember thinking it again.


Tennessee never got that field goal. The Vols didn’t even get another first down. Auburn took the game, and with it basically took Tennessee’s bowl hopes away as well.


Both teams went 5-7. Not only is that the worst hand you can be dealt in blackjack, but it’s a record that will cause a school of their caliber to clean the slate.


That’s exactly what both schools did.


Now a year later, the schools meet again.


Auburn is flying high at 4-0 behind an offense that ranks third in the nation. Its running game is sound, its defense is talented, and its offense has more looks than a Megan Fox Web site.


Tennessee is not as far along in their recovery, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There at least seems to be a plan in place much like there is at Auburn.


On Saturday, though, these two teams will find out which one is clearly ahead of the other in their reconstruction.


For Tennessee, it is an opportunity to quiet some of the critics.


Can Tennessee win games in the SEC without a potent passing attack?


Can the Volunteers hold serve with the big boys despite the rash of injuries that has plagued them since summer camp?


Kiffin seems to think the answer to each question is "yes." But more important than any of his critics believing in him is whether or not his players are buying into it.


This game will go a long way toward defining the blueprint of Kiffin’s plan.


With a win Saturday, the Volunteers will move above .500 in the win-loss column, pick up their first SEC win, give Kiffin his first major victory, and inject a bit of confidence into a team hosting the Georgia Bulldogs next week.


A loss to the Tigers Saturday and their record falls below .500 for the second time this season, they stare at an 0-2 hole in the SEC, the critics will have more questions for the program, and thoughts of last year's pain starts to set back in to the players' collective mindset.


It’s a turning point for the program no matter what the outcome is.


The motto for Kiffin and the Vols this year has been “It’s Time.”


Unfortunately for Kiffin, if the Vols lose Saturday he can’t go back in time to fix it.


I used all the plutonium.