Story published: Sunday, November 26, 2006
KNOXVILLE -- The play call was in. Six yards was all that stood between Kentucky and its first victory over Tennessee in 22 years.
Andre Woodson rolled hard to his right, then looked back across the field for Jacob Tamme in the end zone.But the Volunteers weren't fooled. Tennessee cornerback Jonathan Wade was all over Tamme, who had caught seven passes for 120 yards to that point.
With the pocket collapsing and no other options, Woodson had no choice but to put the ball up for grabs in the direction of Tamme. And when that fourth-and-goal pass sailed out of the end zone, the Wildcats' upset chances went with it.
That final play summarized the Wildcats' afternoon: missed opportunities. Kentucky outgained, outhit, and for the most part outplayed the No. 19 Vols, but left a bushel of points on the scoreboard and was sent back to Lexington with a 17-12 loss.
UK (7-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) outgained the Vols 410-336 and entered Tennessee territory on seven of its eight possessions but ended up with only a Rafael Little touchdown catch and a pair of short Lones Seiber field goals.
"We had our chances to win the game, but we couldn't get it in the end zone when we needed to," UK Coach Rich Brooks said.
Tennessee jumped ahead 10-0 in the first quarter on a 24-yard James Wilhoit field goal and 15-yard TD pass from Erik Ainge to Robert Meachem.
The Cats drove to the Tennessee 3-yard line twice in the first half but had to settle for three points on both occasions. The first time, Little was stuffed for no gain on third-and-goal, and Seiber's 21-yard kick got UK on the board.
A 43-yard run by Little set up his 5-yard scoring catch from Woodson, but Seiber's extra-point attempt sailed wide right, leaving UK behind 10-9.
Freshman Micah Johnson recovered a fumble by Tennessee's Lucas Taylor on the ensuing kickoff, setting up UK at the Vols' 19.
But on third-and-goal from the 1, Little was dropped for a 2-yard loss, and the Cats had to settle for a 20-yard Seiber field goal and a 12-10 halftime lead.
"From 20 to 20, we were pretty good today," offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said. "But when we get in the red zone, we've got to convert those."
While the Wildcats went into the locker room with the lead, they knew they had left some points on the board.
"We really felt like we should have been up 21-10 at the half," Woodson said.
Kentucky continued the same pattern in the final two quarters. The Cats got to the Tennessee 14 on their opening drive of the second half, but Seiber missed from 33 yards.
Tennessee then went on a 15-play, 80-yard drive and took a 17-12 lead on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal by LaMarcus Coker.
UK marched back into scoring position, but on fourth-and-2 from the UT 28, Little was hit in the backfield on a shotgun draw for a 1-yard loss. Tennessee was 2-for-2 on fourth down while Kentucky went 0-for-3.
Little, who missed three games with a knee injury, rushed for 95 yards in the first half but only 24 in the second.
"We went for it on fourth down a few times and couldn't get anything," Brooks said. "We tried to run the draw a couple times and got stuffed. Rafael isn't in shape yet and, I think, got kind of worn down in the second half."
The Wildcats still had a final chance, as they took over at their own 13 with 8:02 remaining. Tamme came up huge on the drive, catching a 10-yarder, making a 12-yard reception on third-and-11, and taking a middle screen 38 yards to the Tennessee 16.
"When people focus on (UK receivers Keenan) Burton and (Dicky) Lyons, it's nice to have an active tight end who can catch and can be an active force," Brooks said. "Jacob had a big day."
The Cats had second-and-goal from the UT 3 with less than four minutes left when they started backtracking. Woodson was whistled for a costly delay-of-game penalty that moved the ball back to the 8. Woodson said he thought the ball was snapped before the clock expired.
"I'm pretty sure I got it off," Woodson said. "I guess one official saw it differently."
Phillips took responsibility for the delay, saying Woodson was trying to change the play at the line of scrimmage.
"That's my fault," Phillips said. "We've got to get the play in quicker and give him time to get into the right play."
UK still had two plays to hit pay dirt. Lyons broke open in the back of the end zone on a quick post, but Tennessee linebacker Rico McCoy tipped the ball just before it got to Lyons.
"Andre could have gotten the ball up a little bit, but that guy made a good play," Phillips said.
And once the Vols bottled up Tamme on fourth down, the Cats were forced to deal with letting one slip away.
"I felt like we were the better team," Woodson said. "We just didn't finish it off like we should have."
What's next for the Cats?
n Kentucky completed its regular season yesterday with a 7-5 record. UK finished third in the Southeastern Conference East at 4-4.
n The Cats are one of nine conference teams eligible to play in a bowl game but might have to wait until after Saturday's SEC championship game between Arkansas and Florida to officially find out where they'll be playing.
n Possible destinations for Kentucky include the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, the Music City Bowl in Nashville, and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.
n Bowl assignments will be announced Sunday, Dec. 3, during the BCS Selection Show at 8 p.m. on Fox-56.