In 1979, Vols defeated a religious school after an upset defeat

Tennessee football will look to bounce back against the BYU Cougars on Saturday. The Volunteers did it against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish school 40 years ago.

There is a bit of precedence for Tennessee football trying to bounce back against a Christian school after suffering a horrific upset loss in the midst of rebuilding as a program. So when the BYU Cougars come to town on Saturday, they can come back.

In 1979, exactly 40 years ago, Johnny Majors was in his third year on the job. Their first team went 4-7, the most losses in program history at the time, and the following year they went 5-5-1. But his third year was perhaps the most inconsistent year in UT history.

A 3-0 start included wins over the Boston College Eagles, Utah Utes and Auburn Tigers. Ironically, those wins included one against a religious school and one against a Utah school, and this weekend Tennessee football is playing against a Utah religious school. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

Regardless, the Vols entered the top 20 at that point, only to retire after being bowled over by the 3-8 Mississippi State Bulldogs. Then they responded with a win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to move back into the top 20, and they stayed there after losing to No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide.

But at 4-2 with just one bad loss, another came. UT lost to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 13-7 in what was supposed to be their comeback game. Now it was an 8-3 Rutgers team, but four of their wins came against programs that are not currently in FBS. They were independent and avoided competition at all costs. So it was a bad team, and it was a bad loss.

How did the Flights react? Well, a week later they hosted a No. 13 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish team. It was a Notre Dame program that had beaten them 31-14 the previous year at South Bend so expectations were low. .

All the Vols have done is dominate. They beat the Irish 40-18 for their first victory over the private Catholic University. It was the rebound of all rebounds and it was worth celebrating. And that put them back in the top 20 for a week until they got into a fight again after a loss to the Ole Miss Rebels.

Still, this Notre Dame game is something UT can consider this weekend. The Irish were an independent 7-4 team that year, not so great, but decent. That’s what many of us have come to expect from BYU this year.

And that Saturday 40 years ago was proof that the football gods will sometimes despise the Vols in front of a religious school if they need a little luck on their side. As they prepare for their first encounter with a private Mormon college, they may need that love again.


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