A Fumble and a Fake Punt
Tennessee 24 Kentucky 14
27 Nov 2010 | Neyland Stadium | 101,170Recap | Boxscore | Play-by-play | Drive Chart
Everything changed with a fumble.
The Tennessee Volunteers were staring at a likely 0-14 deficit with less than a minute remaining in the opening quarter. The Kentucky Wildcats were sitting pretty, first and goal at the Vol 1 yard line after eating up lots of real estate with 16 plays starting from their own 22 yard line, featuring their dynamic duo Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb, guided by senior quarterback Mike Hartline. Several minutes before that, Kentucky had spent several minutes of the first quarter game clock going 80 yards on 10 plays toward the game’s first score to make it 7-0 ‘Cats.
Getting ready to score his second TD of the game, Locke had 74 yards rushing. Hartline took the snap in the shotgun formation and just couldn’t quite stick the ball in the warm spot of his running back’s cradled arms. The ball crashed to the ground, rolled forward to about the two yard line where Vol defensive end Jacquez Smith pounced. What seemed to be a bit of misfortune in the moment, Smith was only able to squirt the ball forward into the endzone. Three orange jerseys went to the ground, but from the TV camera angle, a Kentucky lineman seemed to land on the ball for a Wildcat score. Instead, another Vol linebacker, senior Nick Reveiz had gained possession and was buried beneath about six orange-clad brothers for the touchback.
Tennessee had already tried their hand at moving the ball during two possessions, the first after Da’Rick Rogers returned the opening kickoff 78 yards to the Kentucky 17 yard line. Tauren Poole had three carries for zero net yards. Daniel Lincoln had missed a 28-yard chip shot of a field goal attempt.
So, fortunately the recovery was in the endzone resulting in a drive starting at the 20 yard line instead of at the one yard line where Smith had originally tried to gain possession. Tennessee didn’t have to run to get out of no-man’s land. They had room to operate.
For the remainder of the first half, the Vols passed the football, passed again, and then passed some more. Tennessee had 16 plays from scrimmage the rest of the half – freshman Tyler Bray passed 14 times. Twice he hit a receiver for a TD, and he threw an interception. It was aerial fun. Senior wide receiver Denarius Moore caught passes for 49, 48, 44, and 12 yards in the second quarter alone, one of them a splendid catch for a score to put the Vols up 14-7. Seniors Gerald Jones and Luke Stocker caught passes, too. The only non-pass plays from scrimmage were a sack and Bray taking a knee to run out the first half clock.
Kentucky couldn’t get their mojo back in the quarter – their offense seemed lifeless after the fumble. The Wildcats did manage to put a 14-play drive together late in the quarter, but it ended with a thud when Craig McIntosh missed a 42-yard field goal attempt to even the slate with Lincoln’s early miss.
All Kentucky in the first quarter; all Vols in the second. A wild half saw Tennessee leading 14-7. Dooley wasn’t impressed as he walked off the field, being interviewed by the SEC Network. The first year coach indicated his team exhibited a lack of needed consistency – it was either feast or famine on offense.
It was nearly enough feast to make the difference. But, more solid, fearless play would be required to seal the deal.
The opening of the second half saw Kentucky’s offense back in sync, mainly on passes from Hartline to Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. With 4th and 1 at the Tennessee, Hartline hit Tyler Robinson for a score and the game was even. Everybody knew what would happen – Bray would keep passing. He did, for three incompletions in a row.
Vol freshman punter Michael Palardy said in the post-game locker room that he had never run the ball in high school. So on 4th and 10 from the Vol 24 yard line, Palardy entered virgin territory. It was a bold call by Derek Dooley and his staff. Palardy took the snap near his own 10 yard line, looked up briefly, and took off running for his life toward the left sideline. He eventually gained 16 yards, rambling out of bounds at the Tennessee 40 yard line. Kentucky was stunned. So was nearly everybody wearing orange – in the stands and at home watching on TV.
Brilliant calls are brilliant only when they work. This one was as shiny as they come.
It didn’t seem to matter that Tennessee couldn’t score on the remainder of the drive – Bray threw an interception in the Kentucky end zone while trying to throw the ball away. Kentucky did nothing with the ball, and when the Vols regained possession, they mixed passes with runs on a 9 play, 73 yard drive that ended with Tauren Poole churning his legs to push his Kentucky defenders backward into the endzone for the go-ahead score.
Kentucky couldn’t answer the bell for the fourth quarter – players and coaches. After gaining a first down near midfield, the ‘Cats faced a 4th and 2 at the Tennessee 38 yard line, a situation that Derek Dooley and company surely would have tried to keep possession by going for it on 4th down. Instead, Kentucky head coach Joker Smith called for a pooch-punt to back up the Vols near their own goal line. Punter Ryan Tydlacka hit it squarely into the endzone instead.
Kentucky was dead.
Daniel Lincoln added a 36-yard field goal to make it Vols 24 Wildcats 14. The defense added their stamp on this game. Freshman defensive tackle Joseph Ayers laid a nice sack on the ‘Cats QB. Sophomore defensive back Janzen Jackson made fine plays. And sophomore DB Prentiss Waggoner intercepted a Mike Hartline pass down the right sideline that was well over his intended receiver’s head. Hartline looked at his receiver and dismissively threw his right hand in a way that said “Why didn’t you run after my pass?”
It was a beautiful ending to the game.
During the Vols’ final possession, Tauren Poole desperately ran the ball to get enough yards in order to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for his season. He came up 6 yards short. He actually gained enough yards on the day to eclipse the magic mark, but his net yardage was affected by a few runs for losses.
No worries. Poole can get the mark in the bowl game.
That’s right. The Tennessee Volunteers, the outnumbered, undersized, end-of-October SEC doormat Vols are bowl-eligible.
That in itself speaks volumes about Derek Dooley, his coaching staff, his never-say-die seniors, and a very talented bunch of underclassmen who give all of us something tasty to look forward to on this Thanksgiving weekend.
Simply put, it’s good to be a Tennessee Vol.
Oh, and I nearly forgot — it’s 26 and counting, Kentucky!