By Ron Wynn
The University of Tennessee Volunteers salvaged a little respect in an otherwise awful season Saturday, defeating the University of Kentucky 37-17 in Knoxville. The win enabled UT to avoid going winless in the SEC, something that’s never happened in their history.
It allowed interim coach Jim Chaney to post a victory in his lone game. Chaney took over after fired head coach Derek Dooley turned down the chance to be on the sidelines for the Volunteers final game. The crowd was announced at 81,841, but it looked like less than half the stadium (60,000) was filled for the nationally televised contest.
“At the beginning of the week, it was a little reuged, no question,” Chaney told the Associated Press. “Dealing with change is difficult, but as the week progressed, by Friday, I thought we were close in being ready to go play a football game. How they’ll react in an environment of an SEC ballgame was what I was unsure about, but I felt when we got the ball and scored (on the first drive) I felt pretty comfortable.”
One thing that helped was the return to form of UT QB Tyler Bray. He went 20 of 34 for 293 yards and four touchdowns (no interceptions). Bray’s final totals for the year were 34 touchdowns and 3,612 yards. It was the second greatest single season in team history, behind only Peyton Manning’s 3,819 yards and 36 touchdowns in 1997.
Touchdown passes of 21 yards to Zach Rogers and 42 to Justin Hunter in the first half pushed UT ahead 20-14 at the half. Later, his 29-yard TD strike to Mychal Rivera and final 21-yard TD toss to Cordarelle Patterson completed his day. Patterson broke Reggie Cobb’s 25-year-old record for all-purpose yards. He finished with 1,858.
Rivera led receivers with five catches for 64 yards. Marlin Lane topped rushers, gaining 75 yards on 10 carries. Even though Kentucky controlled time of possession (nearly 35 minutes), the Volunteers defense stopped UK when things were still close.
Tennessee could lose as many as five juniors to the NFL, along with the 13 seniors who played their final game against Kentucky. Both Patterson and Hunter are expected to enter the draft. Hunter returned from major knee surgery to catch 73 passes. Patterson is valued as both a receiver and kick returner, even though he also showed often during the season that he hasn’t totally mastered the mechanics of running pass routes.
Bray’s numbers established him as a pro prospect, even though he had his worse games against such SEC teams as Alabama and Vanderbilt. The Vols might also lost tackle Ja’Wuan James, who has started all 37 games of his college career, and nose tackle Daniel McCullers. McCullers size (6’ 8’’, 377 pounds) makes him an ideal candidate for a 3-4 pro defense, despite the Vols’ horrendous defensive season.
Derek Dooley’s tenure ended after three straight losing seasons and a 5-7 2012 record. His three-year SEC mark was 5-19.