Vols ‘ bowl’ over UK again
Posted: Monday, November 29, 2010 4:51 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — After a season of growing pains and low expectations, Tennessee was rewarded with two things that have defined Volunteers football over the past two and a half decades — a win over Kentucky and a chance to play in a bowl game.
The Vols (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) responded to a four-game losing streak in October with a perfect November and extended their winning streak over Kentucky to 26 straight games with a 24-14 victory on Saturday.
“You know sitting there at 2-6 and people are talking about us being the worst football team in Tennessee history and nobody in the organization flinched,” coach Derek Dooley said. “I’m real proud of them for that. We never got affected by the results. We kept improving each week.”
Dooley was the fourth Tennessee coach to play a role in the nation’s longest active streak in a series between two FBS teams. He got improvement in nearly every week of the season out of an especially young and inexperienced Vols team suffering from low morale after a second coaching turnover in as many years.
On the other sideline, Joker Phillips suffered his first defeat to Tennessee as Kentucky’s head coach. He’s been a part of 16 of the Wildcats’ losses to the Vols, and they’ve all felt pretty bitter to him.
“It was a rough one,” Phillips said. “I’ve never been in a game where you felt as if you had as much control of the game, had a chance to go up by 14. How quick things change. They’re all bitter, let me tell you that. This one is the worst because it’s the present.”
Tennessee freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, who took over the starting role after the four-game October losing streak, threw for 354 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. It was his third game of more than 300 yards passing.
Denarius Moore caught one of Bray’s touchdown passes and had 205 yards receiving to become the only Vols receiver in history to have more than 200 yards receiving in two games in either a season or career. Moore had 228 yards in an Oct. 30 loss to South Carolina.
Kentucky (6-6, 2-6) tied the game at 14 with 10:10 left in the third quarter when Mike Hartline hit Tyler Robinson on a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1. The Wildcats got the ball back on the next drive when Bray threw an interceptions to Mychal Bailey in the Kentucky endzone.
They couldn’t capitalize, and Tennessee drove 73 yards and got a two-yard touchdown run by Tauren Poole on the next drive to ultimately take the lead. Daniel Lincoln kicked a 36-yard field goal with 9:19 in the fourth quarter to pad the lead.
Hartline struggled to connect with his receivers late but finished 31-of-44 for 272 yards, the touchdown and an interception for Kentucky, which entered the game bowl eligible after a Nov. 13 win over Vanderbilt.
Randall Cobb had 13 catches for 116 yards but did not score a touchdown for the first game all season.
Derrick Locke ran 24 times for 97 yards.
“It is probably one of the biggest letdowns we’ve had this year,” Hartline said. “We had a great game plan against them. I don’t think we are the worst team here, we just didn’t execute.”
Kentucky appeared poised to take a 14-point lead early in the second half after putting together a 16-play, 78-yard drive, but Locke fumbled at the Vols 1 and Tennessee’s Nick Reveiz recovered in the end zone.
Tennessee abandoned the run game that had failed to gain any yards against a usually inept Wildcats run defense. After Reveiz’ recovery, Bray completed four passes, including a 44-yard pass to Moore and an 11-yard touchdown toss to Gerald Jones to tie the game at 7 with 13:53 in the second quarter.
Kentucky only picked up one first down on the next drive before it was forced to punt. Tennessee had only two plays on the next drive, a 49-yard pass from Bray to Moore and a 12-yard touchdown toss between the pair to give the Vols a 14-7 lead with 10:50 in the second quarter.
When we were in the locker room, I was telling the team that we were a long way from 2-6,” Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker said. “A lot of people counted us out when we were 2-6 but we didn’t think that as a team.”