Admit it. Don’t lie to me.
Don’t you dare.
You knew exactly what you were thinking once the Vols were hit with a 12-men-on-the-field penalty coming out of a timeout. Because of that, the Wildcats lined up with the ball inside the Vols’ one-yard line with two chances to score a touchdown. The game was winding down with just over two minutes left and all of a sudden, you felt it.
It was there. You know the “it” I’m referring to. That ominous, sinking, empty feeling in your stomach that begins to brew in these situations.
We’d seen it so many times before. The Wildcats were about to score a touchdown and take the lead, leaving the Vols with a little over a minute to play and no timeouts.
The Wildcats’ running game was giving the Vols problems for most of the game, especially once Eddie Gran was able to lighten the box using 11-personnel sets. Kentucky’s passing game had worked at times and the Vols’ best corner, Bryce Thompson, was out with an injury.
The opportunity was there for Kentucky’s taking.
But it wasn’t just this situation that gave this game that familiar feeling. The Vols made a good amount of mistakes - a lot of them dumb mistakes - throughout the night that led to the goal-line stand, beginning with the fumbled handoff between Jarrett Guarantano and Ty Chandler that gave Kentucky the ball and allowed them to march down the field.
- Kentucky blocked the Vols’ first punt of the game after Paxton Brooks bobbled the snap. That gave the Wildcats the ball at the UT24 and they scored their second touchdown of the game to go up 13-0.
- Trey Smith Free Willy’d his way into an idiotic 15-yard penalty that dropped the Vols from a 2nd-and-7 at the UK13 to a 2nd-and-22 at UK28. Instead of a potential touchdown, Tennessee had to settle for a field goal, which could’ve made a difference at the end of the game.
- There was the unnecessary roughing-the-passer call on Matthew Butler that gave Kentucky a fresh set of downs after an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-14 instead of forcing a punt.
- Austin Pope wiped out a touchdown by running down the field as an ineligible receiver. It was a questionable call and it could’ve been Chandler’s fault, but still, it was a mistake on someone’s part that cost the team points.
- The Chandler fumble that took 5 years off our lives and almost sent us spiraling into another Saturday evening full of despair.
- The 12-men-on-the-field penalty that moved the ball inside the UT1 and gave the Cats two chances to take the lead.
But Darel Middleton blocked an extra point that ended up being a huge part of the win. Nigel Warrior picked off a pass and was inches away from turning it into six points. Marquez Callaway redefined the term “50/50 ball” and helped offset the Pope penalty. Josh Palmer made one of the best touchdown catches on the year. The Tennessee defense came up with three 4th down stops, including the one that wrapped it up at the end of the game. Daniel Bituli recorded his 19th tackle on the night, the game-winner on 4th-and-goal that ended all hope of a Kentucky comeback.
And it was a frickin’ one-handed quarterback - who has seen the lowest of lows in 2019 - that brought Tennessee’s offense to life and led them to the two touchdowns that would end up being the difference in the win.
This all happened with the Vols down 13-0. It happened during the comeback and while Tennessee clung on to a one-point lead for over 20 minutes of game play.
Tennessee doesn’t win these games. This doesn’t happen.
A wide receiver playing quarterback certainly helps, but Tennessee showed that it could beat Kentucky with its starting quarterback in 2018, so, it sounds like a moot point to me.
Obviously, you want the dumb mistakes to stop. Eliminating mental errors is paramount to establishing a winning football program. Hopefully Tennessee realizes that Saturday’s mistakes cannot happen if the program wants to reverse its losing ways.
But hopefully the team also realizes that despite all the negative plays, it found a way to win. That can go help Tennessee go further than anything else.
As with most young teams, only time will tell in regards to whether or not they learned their lesson, but it’s nice to see good fortune favor the Vols for once.
Especially when it’s self-made.