Date story was published: Sunday, November 20, 1983
One rumor making its way through the Commonwealth Stadium press box had the three Hall of Fame Bowl representatives locking arms and taking a plunge down the elevator shaft.
Another rumor -- taken much more seriously -- said that watching the afternoon turn slowly into night was the most exciting part of the game.
It wasn't that bad, but it was close. About as close as Tennessee's 10-0 victory over Kentucky.
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Played in front of 57,985 and a regional television audience, the game belonged to the punters and Tennessee's defense. Eighteen times the ball was punted back and forth as the bowl representatives squirmed in their seats.
Each team had two chances to score. Tennessee got a field goal and a touchdown. Kentucky fumbled away a snap from center and, after eschewing a chip-shot field goal attempt, was stopped on downs less than 5 yards from the end zone.
That was it. Otherwise, the two teams ended 18 of the game's 24 possessions with punts.
Tennessee's place-kicker, Fuad Reveiz, and fullback Sam Henderson got the points, but it was the Volunteers' highly-ranked defenders that received the credit.
"The defense won it for us; we didn't do anything," Vol center Glenn Streno said. "They set up both scores. The only thing we did was score when we had the chances."
UK's defense was almost as effective. The difference was Tennessee could take advantage of a UK fumble and short punt in the third quarter, while the Wildcats got nothing out of similar opportunities.
"If the ball had bounced a little differently today," UK Coach Jerry Claiborne said, "it might have been another story."
And, if UK had elected to kick a field goal early in the fourth quarter ...
It was then, trailing 10-0, that the Wildcats sustained only their second drive of the game and reached the Tennessee 5-yard line. There, on a third- down situation needing 3 yards for a first down and five for the touchdown, UK called time with 11:19 to play.
The play, a "46 keeper," called for Randy Jenkins to roll right and look for a hole in a Vol defense that came into the game ranked 23rd nationally against the run and eighth overall. Jenkins was stopped at the 4.
On fourth down, the Cats ran freshman Mark Logan into the middle. He gained nothing.
"We probably should have gone for the field goal," Claiborne said afterward. "I felt we could make a yard. We had been moving the ball. As it turned out, we didn't score, so it didn't make any difference anyway."
Indeed, UK was shut out, its first blanking since Georgia whipped the Cats 28-0 in 1981, a span of 15 games.
But no points there also made meaningless a UK drive in the game's final two minutes that reached the Tennessee 27.
"We were down there so close, why go for three (points)?; we needed seven," Jenkins said. "At the end, it's easier to get three than seven."
Nothing came easy for the Wildcat offense yesterday as Tennessee improved its record to 7-3 (3-2 in the Southeastern Conference) and accepted an invitation to the Florida-Citrus Bowl.
UK fell to 6-4-1 (2-4 in the SEC) and took a berth in the aforementioned Hall of Fame Bowl.
Despite the loss yesterday, both the record and the bid completed one of the best one-season turnarounds in NCAA history. Since World War II, only two teams (Florida in 1980 and Texas Western in 1965) had been invited to a bowl one year after being winless.
With many sighs and a few teams, Kentucky joined the club.
"It's gratifying," Claiborne said of the improvement from last year's 0-10-1 record, "but we wanted this one bad."
Not only because the opponent was Tennessee, but also because a victory could have put the Wildcats in a position to be the champion comeback team of the modern era. As the NCAA computes it, Florida's jump from 0-10-1 to 8-4 marked an improvement of plus seven. The final rating represents the additional number of wins and fewer losses divided by two.
UK could have reached a plus-seven by beating Tennessee and become the all- time improvement king by beating West Virginia next month in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
So much for "could-have-beens."
"Any time you play in Lexington and come away with a win, if you're Tennessee, you feel relieved and very happy," Vols Coach Johnny Majors said. ''Our defense did a great job. The defense gave us field position for our two scores."
Tennessee cashed in both times in the third quarter.
A Tony Mayes fumble at the UK 36-yard line set up a 19-yard field goal by Reveiz.
Mayes started the second half while regular tailback George Adams was being treated for bruised ribs. On the third play from scrimmage, Mayes was stood up while struggling for extra yardage and the ball was knocked five feet into the air. Tennessee's Reggie White, an All-America candidate at tackle, recovered.
Tailback Johnnie Jones, whose status for the game was questionable early last week because of a slight shoulder separation, did the bulk of the running on UT's breakthrough scoring drive. Jones, who finished with 150 yards on 31 carries, gained 22 yards on the march. When UK stiffened at the 2, Reveiz came on the kicked a field goal. That gave UT a 3-0 lead with 9:34 remaining in the third quarter.
"The field goal was a big relief," said another
Vol tailback, Randall Morris: "We knew if we didn't make any mistakes, we were home free."
Later in the quarter, with UK backed up to its own 1-yard line, Paul Calhoun got off the shortest of his six punts, a 37-yarder. The Vols covered the 38 yards in seven plays with Henderson diving over from the 1.
Tennessee had no other scoring threats.
After going more than four minutes into the second quarter without a first down, Kentucky had the first such chance.
Riding the passing of Jenkins, who broke Babe Parilli's school record for career completions yesterday, hit 4 of 4 attempts on the drive. UK went from its own 17 to the 14.
A sweep and a sack pushed the Cats back to the 23. There, on third down and the first half down to its final 85 seconds, Jenkins and center Jerry Klein muffed a snap.
Tennessee recovered, ending the first of UK's two scoring chances.
"It was my fault," Klein said. "I missed the snap count and hiked it too early."
UK didn't threaten again until the fourth quarter. By then, Tennessee's defense was zeroing in on a shutout.
"Tennessee's very good, worthy of their record, but they're not better than us," UK linebacker Scott Schroeder said. "If we go out and get beat like last year (28-7), what the hell? There's not much you can say.
"This year, we had our chances. We just blew up."