KNOXVILLE — The 2008 offensive highlight reels for Kentucky and Tennessee will feature a lot of penalties, three-and-outs and punts, as both teams came into Saturday night's regular-season finale as two of the country's worst offenses (UK 101st, Tennessee 116th).
UT's season and the Phil Fulmer era came to an end, but at least the Vols will have some good clips to look at after their moribund offense came to life just enough to post a rather easy 28-10 win over the Wildcats in front of a less-than-capacity crowd at Neyland Stadium.
The Volunteers (5-7, 3-5 SEC) now have beaten the Cats 24 straight times, the longest streak in the nation.
Kentucky (6-6, 2-6) will have to go back to the drawing board during the downtime before its bowl game to address an offense that produced just 11 first downs and 193 total yards, both season lows.
UK quarterback Randall Cobb, who won four state championships during his career at nearby Alcoa High School, had minimal impact in his return home. Cobb gained just 22 yards on 11 carries, and had several negative plays that compromised field position. With Tennessee stacking the box and practically daring the Wildcats to throw deep, Cobb failed to get anything going in the passing game, either, going just 4-for-7 for 23 yards.
Brooks turned to backup QB Mike Hartline midway through the third quarter with Kentucky trailing 14-3. Hartline, who hadn't played in UK's last two games, did lead the Cats' only scoring drive late in the fourth quarter, but the outcome had been long decided by then.
"Our passing game, for various reasons, is a little bit limited with Randall in there and that's why I made the switch to go to Hartline after we fell behind because I knew we'd have to throw it to catch up," Brooks said.
UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said his unit has been searching for an identity all season, noting the contrast between Cobb, an option/zone-read style QB, and Hartline, who's more of a traditional drop-back passer.
"We need to figure out what we are," Phillips said. "That's the puzzling thing. We don't know what we are."
Kentucky's opening drive looked promising. Cobb had runs of 12 and 15 yards and Alfonso Smith added a 12-yard run to set UK up at the Tennessee 23. But Kentucky was whistled for an ineligible receiver downfield and a personal foul on the same play, turning a second-and-10 from the UT 23 to a second-and-30 at the 43. The Wildcats would punt two plays later, which left them without a touchdown on their opening drive in all 12 regular-season games.
The Cats did get on the scoreboard first with a Lones Seiber 40-yard field goal with five minutes left in the opening period, but both teams spent most of the first half in retreat mode. UT's first two drives of the second quarter netted minus-3 and minus-15 yards, while UK's first two possessions of the second quarter went for minus-15 and minus 14-yards. The Cats ran seven second-quarter plays for minus-22 yards.
"That's just ridiculous as an offense and embarrassing as a team," Cobb said.
Those negative plays would eventually turn the field position and allow UT to take the lead just before halftime. UK started a drive at its own 17 with 8:03 left in the second quarter. A false-start penalty pushed them back to the 12, and then Cobb was dropped for a 9-yard loss to the 3. Tim Masthay's punt went just 32 yards to the UK 35, and the Vols converted a pair of key fourth downs and benefited from a Kentucky pass interference penalty to take a 7-3 lead.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton picked up two yards on a fourth-and-2 run at the UK 27 and David Jones was flagged for contact on Quintin Hancock on third-and-goal from the 2. After Arian Foster was stopped on three straight plays from the UK 1, Crompton scored on a keeper on the final play of the first half.
"That was a huge play," Brooks said. "Just think of the difference if we had stopped them."
UK had eight penalties for 52 yards compared to the Vols' two for 20 yards.
"The flags were falling, and they were falling against us most of the time. We did some stupid things," Brooks said. "The penalties were critical, obviously."
UT struck with a rare big play to start the second half. Crompton play-faked and found Denarius Moore, who got behind Kentucky cornerback David Jones and took it in for six and a 14-3 Volunteers lead at the 13:44 mark of the third quarter.
"That's very disappointing, because they have athletes but haven't been lighting it up throwing the ball," Brooks said. "To give a big touchdown pass like that was a huge momentum swing in the game."
The 63-yarder was UT's biggest play of the year, and the Vols had their longest run (a 54-yarder by Gerald Jones that set up a score) and longest drive (83 yards) of the season as well.
Kentucky will now wait to find out its bowl destination before taking advantage of the practice time, and you can bet a lot of that will be spent on the offense.
"We need to make more plays on offense, that's painfully obvious," Brooks said. "I've said this since I came here, you have to throw the ball to win in this league. Tennessee didn't throw all that much tonight, but they threw it enough to open it up and beat us with a couple of long passes.
"We have to retool. We're not going to be able to retool a lot right now going into this bowl. We're going to have to try and get our offense to move the ball the best way we can. But we have to get back to the type of offense we've played the previous two years."