Heartbroken Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP/UTC/TheLoop) — Tennessee’s Derek Dooley is doing his best to keep the most heartbreaking loss in his time as a coach in perspective for his young Volunteers squad.

The Vols (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) thought they’d upset No. 12 LSU when the Tigers botched what appeared to be the last play of the game near the goal line. Moments later, Tennessee was penalized for too many players on the field, and LSU scored on the replayed third down to win 16-14.

“That’s as hard as it gets in football, but in life there’s a lot of things you could make the case it would be a lot tougher to move on if it happened to me,” Dooley said Sunday. “It’s not the end of the world. The sun came out today — it’s a little cloudy, but it’s out there. There’s nothing you can do but grow and get better.”

Tennessee dealt with a crushing loss last year to eventual national champion Alabama at Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide won 12-10 by blocking the Vols’ game-winning field goal attempt as time expired.

“Alabama last year was similar, but this was just a little more heartbreaking,” safety Janzen Jackson said. “Heartbreak, man. Heartbreak.”

As the clock wound down against LSU, Tennessee was faced with the perfect recipe for confusion. With the players at the 1-yard line with 28 seconds left, communication in the sold-out Tiger Stadium was as tough as it could be.

Add to that LSU’s own disorderliness on a third down where Tennessee expected the Tigers to spike the ball to stop the clock. LSU instead mulled around the line of scrimmage for about 15 seconds before making a late substitution that prompted the Vols’ misguided substitution that added an extra two men on the field.

No one saw the yellow flag lying in LSU’s gold end zone, and Tennessee celebrated. Dooley and cornerback Marsalis Teague embraced, Jackson ran across the field to his family and linebacker Nick Reveiz grasped the ball, which he had fallen on after the botched snap by LSU.

“I have never hurt like this before,” Dooley said after the game. “I’ve never had one where we won and then we lost.”

The coach was concerned with how little time his team had to substitute, but after watching video of the final two plays nearly 150 times he said the responsibility for losing the game fell to Tennessee.

“I think the most important thing is we made sure that we did everything right on our end, and we didn’t,” Dooley said. “Do I think it could have been administered differently? Absolutely, but we’re responsible for doing our part.”

Tennessee had at least two other late chances to end the game with the upset. Tauren Poole wasn’t able to convert a fourth-and-1 on the LSU 31 on the Vols’ final drive. They also allowed LSU to convert fourth-and-14 on the Tennessee 38 with 1:22 left when Jarrett Lee hit Terrence Toliver on a 21-yard pass.

Still, Dooley was proud of the way the Vols competed throughout the game, especially considering it was the first road game for about half the roster. The Vols travel to Georgia (1-4, 0-3) on Saturday.

After converting only two third downs in an overtime win against UAB, Tennessee was successful on seven of 15 attempts against LSU. Poole gained 109 yards on the toughest defense in the SEC after struggling for several games. The Vols were penalized only three times for 10 yards, including the final illegal participation penalty, and never turned the ball over.

Those improvements don’t make the players feel any better, though.

“The ball game was won. It was won. We had to beat them twice,” Poole said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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