Tennessee earned their bowl eligibility with a high flying offensive attack, defeating the Kentucky Wildcats for the 26 straight time 24-14. This so called rivalry has been one sided but the Wildcats have been on the verge of beating the Vols, including an overtime loss to Tennessee just a couple of seasons ago. This is a remarkable turnaround for a team that was 2-6 entering the month of November and had a slim chance of going bowling for the second consecutive year; but by beating Memphis, Mississippi, Vanderbilt and now Kentucky, the Vols are bowl bound. If you notice the momentum began with freshman sensation, Tyler Bray being inserted as the starting QB.
The Vols offense was on the attack for most of the afternoon thanks to it new found leader, in Bray. He would throw for 354 yards and 2 touchdowns in the victory. Bray's main target was senior Denarius Moore who caught 7 passes for 205 yards and 1 TD and became the first ever Vol to have two 200 yard games in a season.
The game itself started out with a bang for Tennessee as Freshman receiver Da'Rick Rogers flashed his speed and returned the opening kick-off 78 yards to Kentucky's 17-yard line. The Vols however would end up with no points on the drive after rushing the ball twice and incompleting a pass on third down. The previous perfect Daniel Lincoln (9-9 on FGs) missed a 29-yard field goal.
The Wildcats took on their own 10 yard line and promptly took the ball down the field for a touchdown. The drive featured RB Derek Locke and do-it-all receiver Randall Cobb. The two would combine for 68 yards on the drive, with Locke taking it on a 17-yard burst up the sidelines. Tennessee would go three-and-out on the next series. The Wildcats would drive the ball to the goal line of the Vols again, with a series of runs to Locke and play-actions passes. However, the Vols would force Locke to fumble and LB Nick Revivz would recover in the end zone for a UT touchback.
That was a momentum shifter as Tennessee got the ball on their 20 yard line and looked like a different offensive team. The drive began with a incompletion but from there Bray would hit his next three passes to TE Luke Stocker for 17-yards, then a 44-yard sling to Moore and finally a 12-yard TD pass to WR Gerald Jones. The quick lighting drive only lasted 61 seconds and tied the score at 7-7. Kentucky would get a one first down on their next series before being forced to punt. The deadly combo of Bray to Moore would strike again as freshman found his senoir wide out for a 49-yard bomb and again on a 12-yard touchdown pass. The Vols offense was red hot now and they took a 14-7 lead.
It would be the defense's turn next to heat up as they tackled Kentucky's Locke behind the line of scrimmage for a loss and DE Chris Walker sacked QB Mike Hartline for a 12-yard loss, ensuing another Wildcat punt. The Vols were penalized on the first two plays of the drive but on the second Bray again was able to find Moore for another 48-yards. The resulting penalty would make it 1st and 20 for the Vols and Bray would be sacked for another 10-yard loss. After the sack Bray would incomplete his next two passes and the red hot offense of the Vols had been cooled and forced to punt.
The Wildcats took over from the 26-yard line and after four plays fumbled as Alcoa native Randall Cobb was hit and coughed up the ball. As good as Bray is, we have to remember this only his fourth game starting and he would throw an interception on the Vols first play after the Cobb fumble. Kentucky got the ball back with 4:01 left in the first half. They would drive the ball all the way to the Tennessee 25-yard line to set up a Field Goal, only to the miss the 42-yard attempt. The score at half was UT 14 Kentucky 7
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips must have said the right things as The Wildcats scored on their opening possession to tie the game at 14-14. The combination of Locke and Cobb was at it again on the scoring drive. Tennessee’s Bray would misfire on his next three passes and UT looked to punt on the 4th and 10. The Vols however pulled out the trick play as punter Michael Parlardy scampered 17-yards for a UT first down. It would be short lived for the Vols as that drive ended with the second of the two picks for Tyler Bray. Kentucky would stall however and go three and out. The Vols would ride the hand of Bray again on the next drive as he hit Gerald Jones for a 21-yard gain on the first play. The run game also got cranked up as Tauren Poole had 13 rushing yards on the drive and capped it with a 2-yard touchdown run that put the Vols up 21-14.
Entering the fourth quarter, Kentucky would go three and out again on their initial drive and UT would move the chains on their next as Bray got TE Stocker involved as he hit him for 21-yard gain. The drive would continue and eventually lead to a field goal for the Vols as Daniel Lincoln would connect from 36 yards out, making the score 24-14
That would all that was needed as the Vols defense held the Wildcats offense in line for the rest of the game. Once again Tyler Bray was the star of the show with his performance. The freshman has all of Vol nation talking with his rocket arm. The win sets up a bowl berth for the Vols, who after a 2-6 start, turned things around to finish 6-6.
The Vols will likely end up with a Music City Bowl appearance for there efforts. The future looks very bright for the Vols with Bray, Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers and Tauren Poole all returning next year. The defense also was key to their success as they ratcheded it up for the second half of the season. The Vol faithful should be proud of this bunch, as they came from the depths to have a classic Vol November finishing 4-0 for the month. Congrats to the Vols on a better than expected season.