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Rewind: Vols put Cats out of misery

Nov. 24, 2012
Neyland Stadium; Knoxville, Tenn.

Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson hauls in a pass against Kentucky (Photo courtesy of Michael Patrick, Knoxville News-Sentinel)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Kentucky's worst season since 1994 came to a merciful end in a rivalry game against Tennessee unlike any in the two programs' long history against each other.

The Cats (2-10, 0-8) concluded its seventh winless Southeastern Conference season since 1963 and first since 2000, losing 37-17 to Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. Both teams will have new coaching staffs next season. Joker Phillips finishes his three-year tenure as Kentucky head coach with a 13-24 record.

Kentucky's defense couldn't stop the Volunteers' offense on the first two drives but buckled down to hold it to just six points the rest of the first half. The Cats had two opportunities to either take the lead or draw closer late in the second quarter but failed to pick up a 4th-and-inches and then missed a 36-yard field goal after a wide snap.

The Cats pulled within 20-17 on a Craig McIntosh field goal midway through the third quarter before Tennessee scored touchdowns on each of its next two possessions to put the game out of reach.

“There were a lot of good teaching moments in these last three weeks. I learned a lot in the last three weeks. One of the things I learned is you’ve got to practice what you preach. Everybody’s going around here talking about how I handled this thing. The reason why I handled it this way: How can I go in there and tell those guys how I want them to handle themselves and I’m not handling it the same way. So I learned a lot during these last three weeks. But it’s time to go. I understand that. It’s definitely time to go.”

“What I really feel is (Phillips) was so unfairly judged as a two-year, 10-game coach if you think about it. Two years, 10 games. Anybody who disputes that is wrong. This head coach in waiting for two years, he's been here for 10, he's been here his whole life, so he was judged unfairly as a head coach. If you want to say that everybody in America should be judged after two years and 10 games when you offer them a five-year deal then what is the reason to have a five-year contract and pull the guy's pug after two years and 10 games?” --UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter, on the end of Joker Phillips' tenure as head coach

24 – College football is no longer a game that embraces patience and Joker Phillips found that out the hard way when he was let go less than three years into his tenure. The reality of today's game is wins, losses and investment on return and Kentucky was getting far too much of the losses and far too little on the return. If you lose 24 games in three seasons – an average of eight per season – it's going to be awfully difficult for you to keep your job in this climate.

Kentucky had its chances to register the first two-game winning streak over Tennessee since 1976-77 but like it has too often in the past couldn't get over the hump. The Cats had three consecutive drives – two at the end of the first half and one to start the second half – that produced 162 yards on 35 plays from scrimmage but only yielded three points. Instead of having a lead the Cats could only pull within 20-17 and never got any closer.

The first nine minutes of the game looked more like a high-scoring battle between two friends playing a video game, as both teams threw caution to the wind and went up and down the field with ease. The game settled down a bit after a 33-yard Tennessee scoring pass was called back due to holding, but the Volunteers still had eight plays of at least 13 yards gained in the first 15 minutes. UK punter Landon Foster booted a pair of 50-yard punts despite little wind. Total Yards: Kentucky 94; Tennessee 154

Kentucky's defense stiffened for much of the second quarter, giving the offense a chance to move the football and remain in the game. That side of the ball was effective in moving up and down the field – 167 yards – but a baffling outside run on 4th-and-inches lost two yards to kill one drive in Tennessee territory and then an errant snap doomed a potential 36-yard field goal just before the half. Total Yards: Kentucky 167; Tennessee 80

Kentucky put the bow on its missed chances by settling for a field goal after a 15-play drive that at one point reached the Tennessee 4-yard line. Tennessee responded with a quick scoring drive that pushed the lead back out to 10 and seemed to completely deflate the Cats, who had consecutive three-and-outs during the same stretch that saw the Volunteers score touchdowns on back-to-back possessions. Despite having nearly equal yardage for the game, the Vols had doubled up UK by the end of the quarter. Total Yards: Kentucky 67; Tennessee 125

The action in the fourth quarter was mostly uneventful, leaving the reality that it was the final 15 minutes Joker Phillips will spend as a player or coach on the Kentucky sideline the most lasting image. The Cats didn't lay down or quit, which is a testament to how the players felt about Phillips but it was another day that ended in a slow walk to the locker room on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Total Yards: Kentucky 84; Tennessee 98

This was not the ending those who care about Kentucky football wanted for Joker Phillips. He was the good soldier for more than 20 years as a player and coach, finally getting a crack at his dream job when Rich Brooks rode off into retirement. But the reality is it just didn't work and didn't appear as though it was headed in the right direction any time soon, leading to Phillips' dismissal. Was it the right call? That can't be judged until a few years down the road, but it was a decision that simply couldn't have been avoided with how the 2012 season played out.

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