By Brian Rice
The Kentucky game was really the personification of the entire last three seasons of Tennessee football.
They went toe to toe with an opponent, albeit an inferior one in every phase of the game, for 60 minutes, they fought back from the big deficit, they at times looked like a competent football team. But at the end of the day, the ending was oddly familiar. When it mattered, when crunch time came, they were just not good enough.
And that has been the issue. Given opportunities to get over the hump, they didn’t do it. They haven’t done it. A win over a Kentucky team that isn’t nearly as good as their record wasn’t going to change the perception or the reality in the minds of the fans or anyone else.
They couldn’t get a stop when they needed it most, though Nigel Warrior did his best to seal it up. Close, but not good enough.
On the final drive, Jarrett Guarantano got exactly enough for a first down on 4th and 24. He got his team into range for a final heave with a 13-yard run when no one was open downfield. But his final pass to Jeff George was 3 yards short. Close, but not good enough.
It goes back three years that you have the close, but not quite there moments. The defense had them against Oklahoma and Florida in 2015, get one stop and the game is yours. Same thing with Texas A&M and South Carolina and even Vanderbilt last year. Florida, South Carolina and now Kentucky this year.
Certainly, there have been close wins where the defense has stood tall when needed as well. But the identity that fans have burned to memory is that when the big moment arrives, this team doesn’t step up to it. That is unfortunately what fans saw Saturday night as well.
The part of the game that was truly remarkable is that you look at the statistics, it is beyond explanation how Tennessee didn’t actually win the game. All of the important stats are not just in Tennessee‘s favorite, they are significantly in Tennessee favor.
Tennessee had 10 more first downs than Kentucky. The Vols outgained the Wildcats by more than 70 yards. Time of possession was in UT’s favor by almost 17 minutes.
And turnovers. Tennessee forced four. Tennessee did not turn the ball over.
Those numbers show a game that should not have been close. It was. And, ultimately, it was a loss that should not have been.
If you’re looking for the usual snark and tweets from the game, I don’t have that for you this week. It’s not funny anymore.
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