1985 Tennessee Volunteers Football Team
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1985 Tennessee Volunteers Football Team

1985 Tennessee Volunteers football
Tennessee Volunteers logo.svg
SEC champion
Sugar Bowl champion
ConferenceSoutheastern Conference
CoachesNo. 4
APNo. 4
1985 record9-1-2 (5-1 SEC)
Head coachJohnny Majors (9th season)
Offensive coordinatorWalt Harris (3rd season)
Defensive coordinatorKen Donahue (1st season)
CaptainTim McGee
CaptainTommy Sims
CaptainChris White
Home stadiumNeyland Stadium
← 1984
1986 →
1985 SEC football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
No. 4 Tennessee $ 5 1 0     9 1 2
No. 5 Florida 5 1 0     9 1 1
No. 13 Alabama 4 1 1     9 2 1
No. 20 LSU 4 1 1     9 2 1
Georgia 3 2 1     7 3 2
Auburn 3 3 0     8 4 0
Ole Miss 2 4 0     4 6 1
Vanderbilt 1 4 1     3 7 1
Kentucky 1 5 0     5 6 0
Mississippi State 0 6 0     5 6 0
  • $ – Conference champion
  • Florida ineligible for SEC championship due to NCAA probation.
Rankings from AP Poll

The 1985 Tennessee Volunteers football team (variously "Tennessee", "UT" or the "Vols") represented the University of Tennessee in the 1985 NCAA Division I-A football season. Playing as a member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the team was led by head coach Johnny Majors, in his ninth year, and played their home games at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. They finished the season with a record of nine wins, one loss and two ties (9-1-2 overall, 5-1 in the SEC), as SEC champions and with a victory over Miami in the 1986 Sugar Bowl. The Volunteers offense scored 325 points while the defense allowed 140 points. At season's end, the Volunteers ranked fourth in both the AP Poll and the Coaches' Poll.

Known to fans as the Sugar Vols for their Sugar Bowl victory, the 1985 squad is frequently recalled as one of the most memorable and beloved teams in UT football history,[1][2][3] and has been credited with restoring the program to national prominence.[4][5] The team's SEC Championship was the first for the program in 16 years, and its top ten ranking was the program's first in 13 years.[4]

After a strong start to the season, Tennessee suffered a major setback when star quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Tony Robinson suffered a season-ending knee injury in a close game against Alabama. The team rallied to finish 6-0-1, however, led by backup quarterback Daryl Dickey, and a defense– nicknamed the "Orange Crush"– that allowed just four touchdowns in its final seven games. The 1986 Sugar Bowl has been ranked among the team's ten greatest victories of all time.[6][7]

Before the season

The 1984 Tennessee squad had managed a 7-4-1 record, ending with a narrow 28-27 loss to Maryland in the Sun Bowl. While they had defeated rival Alabama 28-27, they lost important games to Auburn and Florida, and had been upset by Kentucky.

Prior to the 1985 season, long-time athletic director Bob Woodruff (1916–2001) announced his retirement. Head coach Johnny Majors expressed interest in serving as both coach and athletic director, but the university hired former coach Doug Dickey.[8]

Returning players and roster changes

Quarterback Tony Robinson entered the 1985 season as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. During the 1984 season, he had completed 156 of 253 passes for 1,963 yards, falling just short of his predecessor Alan Cockrell's single-season record of 2,021 yards (set in 1983). His 61.7% completion percentage had broken the single-season record set by Johnny Majors in 1956.[9] Fifth-year senior Daryl Dickey, Robinson's backup, would start the final seven games after Robinson suffered a season-ending knee injury. Three redshirt freshmen were competing for the third-string quarterback slot: Jeff Francis, Randy Sanders, and Greg Hargis.[10]

All-American prospect Tim McGee was the leading returning wide receiver, having caught a school record 54 passes in 1984. McGee entered the 1985 season needing 45 catches, 828 yards, and 5 touchdowns to set school career records in all three categories, a feat which he would accomplish.[9] McGee was joined in the starting lineup by junior college transfer Eric Swanson (20 catches for 186 yards in 1984), while junior Joey Clinkscales and sophomore Vince Carter would see significant playing time.[10] Olympic sprinter Sam Graddy joined the team as a receiver during spring practice. Senior Jeff Smith (6'3", 235 pounds), who had caught 26 passes for 416 yards in 1984, was the team's starting tight end, while Tim Hendrix (6'5", 223) would see significant playing time.[10]

The running back slot was wide open following the graduation of 2nd-team All American Johnnie Jones. Sophomore Charles Wilson began the season as the starter, and was joined by redshirt freshman Keith Davis and junior Pete Panuska. One notable addition to the running back corps was Jeff Powell, a member of the track team who had been awarded the football team's final scholarship at the end of spring practice. Fullback duties were handled by 250-pound junior Sam Henderson, 225-pound sophomore William Howard and 230-pound junior Jim Miller.[10]

The offensive line had lost Raleigh McKenzie and Bill Mayo to graduation, but returned future NFL players David Douglas (6'4", 266 pounds), Bruce Wilkerson (6'5", 258), Daryle Smith (6'5", 257), John Bruhin (6'4", 273), and Harry Galbreath (6'1", 260). Todd Kirk (6'3", 257) was the starting center. Tony Williams (6'3", 272) would also see playing time.[10]

On defense, the Vols had lost three linebackers to the NFL Draft: Carl Zander, Alvin Toles, and Reggie McKenzie. The key returning linebacker was Dale Jones, who had registered 109 tackles in 1984, and had garnered a reputation for making big plays. Jones was joined by senior Lavoisier Fisher, junior Tyrone Robinson, sophomores Kelly Ziegler and Darrin Miller, and freshman Bryan Kimbro. The defensive line was led by senior Richard Brown (6'1", 263 pounds) and junior Robby Scott (6'1", 274), while sophomores Mark Hovanic (6'3", 245), Fred Bennett (6'0", 258) and Richard Cooper (6'6", 272) had shown promise as freshmen.[10]

The Vols' secondary was considered the strongest part of the defense at the beginning of the season, with Tommy Sims and Terry Brown registering strong seasons in 1984. They were joined by junior Charles Davis and sophomores Terry McDaniel, Andre Creamer and Victor Peppers.[10] Chris White, a fifth-year senior who had seen scant playing time prior the 1985 season, would come off the bench to lead the team with 9 interceptions and receive All-American honors.[11]

The Vols' special teams were also dealing with inexperience, having lost kicker Fuad Reveiz and punter Jimmy Colquitt to the NFL. Carlos Reveiz, Fuad's younger brother, stepped in at kicker, while sophomore Bob Garmon was named the starting punter.[10] Joel Farmer was the team's long snapper, while Randy Sanders was the primary holder. Tim McGee and Andre Creamer handled punt returns, while Pete Panuska, Keith Davis, and Jeff Powell handled kick returns at various times during the season.

Coaching staff

Head Coach Johnny Majors (b. 1935) had compiled a 108-82-5 record during his 17 years as a head coach, which included five seasons with Iowa State (1968–1972), four with Pittsburgh (1973–1976), and eight with Tennessee (1977–1984). His record at UT at the start of the 1985 season was 51-39-3.[12] While he had taken the Vols to four consecutive bowl games, he had yet to win an SEC Championship.

The most notable addition to the Tennessee coaching staff was Ken Donahue (1925–2001), who had worked as an assistant coach under Alabama's Bear Bryant for 21 years. Donahue was initially hired as a defensive line coach in February 1985, but was promoted to defensive coordinator in March after Larry Marmie announced he was leaving for Arizona State.[13] Prior to Spring practice, long-time Vol assistant George Cafego retired.[14] In late March, the Vols hired Tennessee Tech defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas to coach linebackers.[15]

Four members of the 1985 staff would later become head coaches at Division I programs: Walt Harris, Phillip Fulmer, David Cutcliffe and Ron Zook. Kippy Brown has worked as an assistant coach in the NFL, and was briefly UT's interim head coach following the abrupt departure of Lane Kiffin in January 2010. Gerald Brown, an administrative assistant, later became the running backs coach for the Atlanta Falcons.

Bruno Pauletto, the Vols' strength coach, was an Olympic shot putter who won the gold medal for the Canadian team at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, and was a member of the Canadian team at the 1984 Olympics.[16]

Name Position Season
Johnny Majors Head coach 9th
Ken Donahue Defensive coordinator 1st
Walt Harris Offensive coordinator 3rd
Ralph Chancey Administrative assistant 7th
Kippy Brown Wide receivers 3rd
Dick Bumpas Inside linebackers 1st
David Cutcliffe Tight ends 4th
Mel Foels Outside linebackers 2nd
Phillip Fulmer Offensive line 6th
Bill Higdon Recruiting coordinator 11th
Doug Mathews Running backs 6th
Ron Zook Defensive backs 2nd
Bruno Pauletto Strength coach 6th


The Vols opened the 1985 campaign hosting #10 UCLA, which was coming off a 9-3 season in 1984, and had defeated defending national champion BYU in their first game of the 1985 season. Bruins coach Terry Donahue entered the game needing one win to become UCLA's all-time winningest football coach.[17] The Bruins' offense featured running back Gaston Green, two future NFL receivers, Willie "Flipper" Anderson and Mike Sherrard, and All-American kicker John Lee. Matt Stevens and David Norrie were vying for time at quarterback.[18]

Following a bye week, the Vols hosted the Auburn Tigers, who entered the game ranked #1 in the nation, and had defeated the Vols in the teams' previous three meetings. The Tigers' offense was led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson, who had averaged 247.5 yards per game and nearly 10 yards per carry in his first two games of the season. Auburn struggled with uncertainty at quarterback, however, with Jeff Burger, Bobby Walden, and Pat Washington all vying for the starting position.[19]

After hosting Wake Forest, the Vols traveled to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators. Florida coach Galen Hall entered the game with an 11-0-1 record, having shut out LSU the previous week. Florida's offense featured the school's all-time leading rusher Neal Anderson and John L. Williams in the backfield, quarterback Kerwin Bell, and future NFL receiver Ricky Nattiel. Many Gator fans saw this game as an opportunity for revenge, as they blamed Tennessee for leading the movement to strip the Gators of their 1984 SEC Championship for rules violations committed under Hall's predecessor, Charley Pell.[20]

In the fifth game of the season, the Vols visited Alabama for the "Third Saturday in October" rivalry. The Tide entered the game 4-1 following a 19-17 loss to Penn State in the previous week. The Vols had won the teams' previous three meetings, and desperately needed a win to stay in contention for the SEC Championship. The Tide was led by quarterback Mike Shula (the son of NFL coach Don Shula) and future All-American running back Bobby Humphrey on offense, and All-American linebacker Cornelius Bennett on defense.[21]

Tennessee hosted Georgia Tech for its sixth game of the season. The Yellow Jackets entered the game 4-2 following a narrow loss to Auburn in the previous week. The Vols had edged Georgia Tech 24-21 the previous year, but were playing without star quarterback Tony Robinson, who had suffered a season-ending knee injury against Alabama. The Yellow Jackets' offense was led by All-ACC quarterback John Dewberry and receiver Gary Lee, though leading rushers Cory Collier and Jerry Mays were out with injuries.[22] Linebacker Ted Roof and lineman Pat Swilling led the Jackets' elite "Black Watch" unit on defense.[23]

After playing Rutgers in Knoxville and visiting Memphis State, the Vols began their final conference stretch by hosting Ole Miss. A tie between Alabama and LSU the previous week had left Tennessee and Florida tied for first place in the conference, and with Florida ineligible, the Vols needed only to win their final three games to win the SEC Championship. The Rebels were led by freshman quarterback Chris Osgood (starting in place of the injured Kent Austin), running back Nathan Wonsley, and receiver J.R. Ambrose.[24]

In the next-to-last game of the regular season, the Vols traveled to Lexington to play Kentucky in the annual Battle for the Barrel. Kentucky entered the game 5-5 under 4th-year head coach Jerry Claiborne, and had won the teams' previous meeting in Knoxville, 17-12. In the final game of the regular season, the Vols played host to Vanderbilt, which entered the game 3-6-1.

As SEC Champions, Tennessee received an automatic berth in the 1986 Sugar Bowl, played on New Year's Day. Their opponent, Miami, entered the game with a 10-game winning streak, which was capped by a 58-7 blowout of Notre Dame. Ranked #2 in the nation, Miami needed a win over Tennessee and a loss by Penn State in the Orange Bowl to lay claim to the national title.[25] Under second-year coach Jimmy Johnson, the Hurricanes featured numerous future NFL players, including quarterback Vinny Testaverde, running backs Alonzo Highsmith, Warren Williams, and Mel Bratton, receivers Michael Irvin and Brian Blades, All-American tight end Willie Smith, and a defense led by linemen Jerome Brown and Kevin Fagan, linebacker Winston Moss, and defensive back Bennie Blades.

September 14No. 10 UCLA*ABCT 26-2694,370
September 28No. 1 Auburn
  • Neyland Stadium
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
ABCW 38-2094,358
October 5Wake Forest*No. 16
  • Neyland Stadium
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
W 31-2993,345
October 12at No. 7 FloridaNo. 14L 10-1774,432
October 19at No. 15 AlabamaNo. 20TBSW 16-1475,808
October 26Georgia Tech*No. 16
  • Neyland Stadium
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
ESPNT 6-694,575
November 2Rutgers*daggerNo. 19
  • Neyland Stadium
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
W 40-092,188
November 9at Memphis State*No. 19W 17-749,617
November 16Ole MissNo. 18
  • Neyland Stadium
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
TBSW 34-1492,482
November 23at KentuckyNo. 16TBSW 42-057,160
November 30VanderbiltNo. 10
  • Neyland Stadium
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
TBSW 30-097,372
January 1, 1986vs. No. 2 Miami*No. 8ABCW 35-777,432
  • *Non-conference game
  • daggerHomecoming
  • Rankings from AP Poll released prior to the game

Game summaries



Wake Forest



Georgia Tech


Memphis State

Ole Miss




End of season

Statistical leaders (regular season)

  • Passing: Tony Robinson 91/143, 1246, 8 TD, 7 INT; Daryl Dickey 85/131, 1161, 10 TD, 1 INT; Jeff Francis 14/20, 172, 1 TD, 1 INT
  • Receiving: Tim McGee 50-947-7; Joey Clinkscales 22-434-4; Jeff Smith 20-397; Eric Swanson 24-300-4
  • Rushing: Keith Davis 141-684-2; Jeff Powell 55-235; Sam Henderson 53-175-2; Pete Panuska 39-196-3; Tony Robinson 44-201-1
  • Tackles: Kelly Ziegler 101 (83 solo), Darrin Miller 94 (67), Dale Jones 82 (59), Tommy Sims 62 (42), Chris White 62 (34)
  • Tackles for loss: Dale Jones 9
  • Sacks: Mark Hovanic 8, Dale Jones 5, Richard Cooper 5
  • Interceptions: Chris White 9, Charles Davis 3
  • Passes broken-up: Andre Creamer 6, Tommy Sims 5, Richard Cooper 5
  • Forced fumbles: Dale Jones 5, Darrin Miller 4
  • Fumbles recovered: Chris White 3
  • Kicking: Carlos Reveiz 24/28 field goals, 30/30 PAT
  • Punting: Bob Garmon 39.1 yards/punt
  • Source:[45]


New school records

  • Most passing yards in a game: 387, Tony Robinson (vs. UCLA)
  • Most touchdown passes in a game: 4 (tie), Tony Robinson (vs. Auburn)
  • Most interceptions in a game: 3 (tie), Chris White (vs. UCLA)*
  • Consecutive passes without an interception: 106, Daryl Dickey
  • Highest single-season completion percentage (min. 100 attempts): 64.9%, Daryl Dickey*
  • Highest career completion percentage (min. 100 attempts): 63%, Daryl Dickey (1981–1985)*
  • Lowest career interception percentage: 1.2%, Daryl Dickey (1981–1985)
  • Most single-season receiving yards: 947, Tim McGee
  • Most single-season touchdown receptions: 7 (tie), Tim McGee
  • Most career receptions: 123, Tim McGee (1982–1985)
  • Most career receiving yards: 2,042, Tim McGee (1982–1985)
  • Most career touchdown receptions: 16, Tim McGee (1982–1985)
  • Most single-season points by kicking: 102, Carlos Reveiz
  • Fewest team fumbles lost: 5
  • * Indicates record still stands as of the 2012 season
  • Source:[47][48]

Team players drafted into the NFL

Player Position Round Pick NFL club
Tim McGee Wide receiver 1 21 Cincinnati Bengals
Jeff Powell Running back 6 166 Chicago Bears
Eric Swanson Wide receiver 7 170 St. Louis Cardinals
Tommy Sims Defensive back 7 190 Indianapolis Colts
David Douglas Guard 8 204 Cincinnati Bengals


  1. ^ Jeff Carroll, Perfect Rivals (Random House Digital, 2010), p. 36.
  2. ^ Nicholas Wendel, "'Sugarvols Carry Milestone With Them", Tennessee Journal, March 29, 2012. Retrieved: March 28, 2013.
  3. ^ Tom Mattingly, "The Memories of 1985 Archived 2013-04-11 at Archive.today", Knoxnews.com, November 30, 2007. Retrieved: March 28, 2013.
  4. ^ a b John Pennington, "End of an Era? Or an Opportunity Archived 2013-04-11 at Archive.today?" Knoxnews.com, October 9, 2005. Retrieved: March 28, 2013.
  5. ^ Mike Strange, "DVD to Honor Sugar Vols 20 Years After Huge Win", Knoxnews.com, August 10, 2005. Retrieved: March 28, 2013.
  6. ^ Dave Hooker, "Top 10 Tennessee Victories Archived 2013-06-15 at Archive.today", Knoxnews.com, June 17, 2008. Retrieved: April 9, 2013.
  7. ^ "The 10 Greatest Tennessee Volunteers Games of All Time", Bleacher Report, June 19, 2008. Retrieved: April 9, 2013.
  8. ^ "UCLA at Tennessee" (ABC Sports broadcast)", Knoxville, Tennessee, September 14, 1985. Accessed at YouTube.com, April 8, 2013.
  9. ^ a b 1985 University of Tennessee Football Guide Archived October 29, 2013, at the Wayback Machine (University of Tennessee, 1985), p. 12.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h 1985 University of Tennessee Football Guide (University of Tennessee, 1985), pp. 18-19.
  11. ^ Chris White", UTSports.com. Retrieved: April 8, 2013.
  12. ^ 1985 University of Tennessee Football Guide, University of Tennessee, 1985, p. 25.
  13. ^ "Donahue Takes Coordinator Job", Tuscaloosa News, March 28, 1985, p. 13.
  14. ^ "Tennessee Kicking Coach George Cafego Retires", Tuscaloosa News, March 24, 1985, p. 38.
  15. ^ a b 1985 University of Tennessee Football Guide. The University of Tennessee. 1985. pp. 30-37.
  16. ^ 1985 University of Tennessee Football Guide, University of Tennessee, 1985, p. 37.]
  17. ^ "UCLA Coach Terry Donahue", Tennessee Versus UCLA Official Program, University of Tennessee, September 1985, p. 65.
  18. ^ Gibson Smith, "1985 UCLA Bruins Scouting Report", Tennessee Versus UCLA Official Program, University of Tennessee, 1985, pp. 14-15.
  19. ^ Gibson Smith, "1985 Auburn Tigers Scouting Report", Tennessee Versus Auburn Official Program, University of Tennessee, 1985, pp. 14-15.
  20. ^ Sharon Robb, "Gators Drop Tennessee Volunteers", Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, October 13, 1985. Retrieved: March 27, 2013.
  21. ^ "Vols Stop Tide, Lose Robinson", Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1985. Retrieved: March 27, 2013.
  22. ^ Gibson Smith, "Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Scouting Report", Tennessee Versus Georgia Tech Official Program, 1985, pp. 14-15.
  23. ^ Luciana Chavez, "Duke's Faith in Roof Far From Blind", The News & Observer, November 24, 2006. Retrieved at archive.org, March 27, 2013.
  24. ^ Gibson Smith, "Mississippi Rebels Scouting Report", Tennessee Versus Mississippi Official Program, 1985, pp. 14-15.
  25. ^ Austin Wilson, "National Title Could Hinge on Miami-Tennessee Fray", The Fifty-Second Sugar Bowl Official Program, 1986, p. 11.
  26. ^ "Tennessee Football History and Records: Tennessee Results 1980-89". University of Tennessee Athletics. Retrieved 2012.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Last Season", 1986 University of Tennessee Football Guide (University of Tennessee, 1986), pp. 100-104.
  28. ^ UCLA Bruins at Tennessee Volunteers (September 14, 1985), College Football Belt. Retrieved: April 1, 2013.
  29. ^ Pacific Stars and Strips, September 30, 1985, p. 22. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com, April 10, 2013.
  30. ^ Pacific Stars and Stripes, October 7, 1985, p. 24. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com April 14, 2013.
  31. ^ Santa Ana-Orange County Register, October 13, 1985, p. 112. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com April 11, 2013.
  32. ^ Salina Journal, October 20, 1985, p. 24. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com April 11, 2013.
  33. ^ Southeast Roundup : Florida Has Thoughts About Auburn, Beats Virginia Tech, 35-18", Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1985. Retrieved: April 2, 2013.
  34. ^ Salina Journal, October 27, 1985, p. 10. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com April 11, 2013.
  35. ^ Salina Journal, November 3, 1985, p. 34. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com.
  36. ^ "Southeast Roundup : Alabama Salvages Tie When LSU Misses on a Late Field-Goal Try", Los Angeles Times, November 10, 1985. Retrieved: April 2, 2013.
  37. ^ Pacific Stars and Stripes, November 10, 1985, p. 22. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com April 13, 2013.
  38. ^ "Southeast Roundup: Tennessee Moves Into the Driver's Seat, 34-14", Los Angeles Times, November 17, 1985. Retrieved: April 2, 2013.
  39. ^ Ole Miss Rebels - 1985 Stats, p. 72. Retrieved: April 9, 2013.
  40. ^ Aiken Standard, November 17, 1985, p. 18. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com April 12, 2013.
  41. ^ "Southeast Roundup: Tennessee Gets Its Offense Going and Beats Kentucky", Los Angeles Times, November 24, 1985. Retrieved: April 2, 2013.
  42. ^ Salina Journal, November 24, 1985, p. 26. Accessed at Newspaperarchive.com April 12, 2013.
  43. ^ "Tennessee's 30-0 Victory Takes the Cake: Volunteers Rout Vanderbilt on Way to the Sugar Bowl", Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1985. Retrieved: April 2, 2013.
  44. ^ Marty Mulé, "52nd Annual Sugar Bowl Classic", Allstate Sugar Bowl official site. Originally published in Sugar Bowl Classic: A History (2008). Retrieved: April 2, 2013.
  45. ^ 1986 University of Tennessee Football Guide (University of Tennessee, 1986), pp. 105-106.
  46. ^ 1986 University of Tennessee Football Guide (University of Tennessee, 1986), p. 108.
  47. ^ 1986 University of Tennessee Football Guide (University of Tennessee, 1986), pp. 116-117.
  48. ^ Records Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. UTSports.com. Retrieved: April 10, 2013.
  49. ^ "1986 NFL Draft". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2012.

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