After losing to Vanderbilt at home last week, the Vols’ hopes of a bowl birth were dashed and any chance of a winning season was out the window. All that’s left is pride—and an obscure record of never having lost eight games in a season, an accomplishment shared only with Ohio State.
“We always want to win – that’s the goal,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. “I don’t know if it’s as much as ending the season [with a win] as it is just winning this ballgame. Obviously sending the seniors out on a high note and having some momentum into the offseason.”
Digging into the stats of each team, not surprisingly, the numbers are similar. Tennessee averages eleven more offensive yards per game than Kentucky, and allows seven fewer yards per game on defense.
Tennessee averages 23.5 points per game. The Wildcats average 21.1. Rushing touchdowns are even and the Vols trail in passing touchdowns by two.
With Tennessee starting quarterback Josh Dobbs struggling as of late and receiver Marquez North considered questionable, the Vols will likely rely heavily on the running game. As much as this team has struggled at times, its 2043 rushing yards this season are the most by any Tennessee team since the 2004 duo of Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs. Rajion Neal needs only ten yards to become the Vols’ first thousand yard rusher since Tauren Poole in 2010.
The Vols haven’t had much success this season with mobile quarterbacks and Kentucky’s Jalen Whitlow is a threat to run the football. He has just one less carry this season than senior tailback Raymond Sanders.
If recent history is any indication, playing on the road won’t be easy for the Vols. Tennessee has lost 11 consecutive conference games away from Neyland Stadium and 12 games overall, a streak which dates back to 2010.
Tonight, 27 seniors will play their final collegiate game. It’s been a long journey filled with mostly disappointment and change. Redshirt senior Marlon Walls was recruited by Phillip Fulmer, played one year under Lane Kiffin, endured three years under Derek Dooley and will finish his Tennessee career under Butch Jones. The fourth-year seniors have a history that’s very similar. And keep in mind, many of these players have had different position coaches every single season they were on campus.
Pride is all that’s left to play for at this point.
Butch Jones says that if your team is filled with competitors, they look forward to every opportunity to go out and compete. However, I’m guessing not many would be surprised if this team chose to mail it in an put this season behind them. How will we close the book on team 117? We will find out tonight at 7 p.m.
The game will be televised by ESPNU.