Not only did Tennessee overwhelm top-ranked and previously unbeaten Auburn, 38-20, today before almost 95,000 at Neyland Stadium, the Volunteers did it with stunning simplicity.
In fact, the most difficult problem Tennessee seemed to face all afternoon was keeping its frantic swarm of fans off the field and away from the goal posts before the horn sounded ending the game.
"Beautiful, beautiful, the whole thing was beautiful," Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors said when it was over. "It was just about the greatest thing I'd ever seen."
The truth is, this nationally televised matchup between two of the toughest and best members of the Southeastern Conference wasn't even close. In leading Tennessee to its first victory of the season (the unranked Volunteers, now 1-0-1, tied UCLA two weeks ago), quarterback Tony Robinson danced and passed and danced and passed, and had just a fine time.
He completed 17 of 30 passing attempts for 259 yards and four touchdowns, overshadowing the play of Bo Jackson, the great Auburn running back who gained only 80 yards on 17 carries and watched most of the final period from the sideline.
Jackson, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, injured his knee on a draw play "in the middle of the third quarter," he said. "I went up the middle and when I was tackled, I felt a little funny . . . It's nothing serious, it just hurts. I took myself out of the game because I didn't want to get it hurt any worse."
Herb Waldrop, the Auburn trainer, and Lyle Norwood, the team physician, examined Jackson in the dressing room after the game and said he had suffered either a bruised or strained knee. Jackson will be taken to a medical clinic in Columbus, Ga., Sunday morning for a more thorough examination. He said he was "ready to get back to Auburn and regroup, get everybody's wounds healed and start all over again."
In Auburn's first two games of the season, Jackson gained 495 yards and led the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation. But even with their best runner, the Tigers' offense fell way short of even Tennessee's expectations, and scored all of its points in the final period.
"It was just a good, old-fashioned whipping in every area," Auburn Coach Pat Dye said. "And they didn't just use the pass to do it. I just hope we're not as bad as we looked today."
One can only wonder how Dye and the rest of the Auburn team felt going into the locker room at halftime, down, 24-0, and playing as if they had been placed here by mistake. From the very start, stopping Robinson proved to be a near-impossible task.
On its first possession, Tennessee covered 76 yards on eight plays and scored when running back Charles Wilson took a pitch off right end. The biggest play of the drive saw Robinson drop back to pass but think better of it after spotting a hole up front and what must have seemed like acres of open pasture. He ran for 39 yards before cornerback Kevin Porter pulled him down.
"We knew all week what we wanted to do," Robinson said. "And it just turned out that everything worked the way we wanted it to work. We'd decided that we were gonna take what they gave us. If it was the long ball, we'd take it. If it was the short ball, we'd take that, too."
The Volunteers' next touchdown came with 4:34 left in the first quarter, when Robinson passed 37 yards to Tim McGee, who'd beaten cornerback Jonathan Robinson on the coverage. McGee, a preseason all-America, caught six passes for 163 yards and helped, he said, "put Tennessee back on the football map."
Tennessee's next score belonged to split end Vince Carter, who caught a four-yard pass from Robinson with a little more than eight minutes left in the first half. Carter said the passing play that put the Volunteers up, 21-0, came after "Tony (Robinson) audibled from a running play to a pass. I went out and reversed pivot, and there was the ball for the taking. I never saw Tony throw it."
The last score in the first half came when Carlos Reveiz kicked a 28-yard field goal and helped create a 24-point cushion for Tennessee, which amassed a remarkable 479 total yards for the day, compared with Auburn's 352.
Neither team scored in the third quarter. But Auburn, playing wounded, owned the fourth, scoring 20 points to the 14 by Tennessee. For the Tigers, fullback Tommy Agee scored on a two-yard run with 12:52 left in the game, only to have it matched by Tennessee less than two minutes later when Robinson passed 10 yards to wingback Joey Clinkscales, giving the Volunteers a 31-6 edge.
Auburn tailback Brent Fullwood scored on a seven-yard run on the Tigers' next possession, but again, Tennessee struck back quickly. Robinson passed 30 yards to Eric Swanson in the end zone with little more than seven minutes left to play, and it was 38-12.
Still unwilling to surrender, Auburn scored with 5:27 remaining when Walden passed four yards to Kyle Collins. But that was as much as the Tigers would get. It ended, 38-20, with a mob of spectators spilling onto the turf and looking for goal posts to twist into weird shapes.
"We showed them that they are not the last of the hard-nosed," Mark Hovanic, a defensive tackle for Tennessee, said in the end. "We went out and did what we had to do. We outhustled them . . . And we told ourselves we could beat these guys."
"Using this game as a starter," Robinson said, "hopefully we'll win the SEC."