KNOXVILLE — Tennessee never had hopes of stopping Randall Cobb on Saturday.
“Nobody stops the guy,” Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said about the Wildcats’ versatile All-America candidate from nearby Alcoa.
The Volunteers simply wanted to keep Cobb contained. And they did.
Cobb had 116 yards on a game-high 13 receptions, but that’s less than 9 yards per catch. He had just 25 yards on five runs, didn’t complete either pass he attempted and gained just 4 yards on his lone punt return.
Perhaps most impressively, Cobb never gained more than 20 yards on a single touch.
“We knew he was going to get some catches, because he’s a great athlete, but we just had to limit the big plays once he made those catches,” said UT sophomore defensive back Prentiss Waggner, who helped seal the 24-14 win in the fourth quarter with his fifth interception of the season.
Again, though, even that’s not easy.
“Running around with Cobb is like running around with a rabbit or something,” Waggner said. “You get tired.”
But the Vols didn’t break.
“Cobb had 13 catches, but he only averaged, what is that, about 8 yards a catch?” Dooley said. “That means you’re tackling well. Is that math right? I’m not a mathematician.”
Dooley was then told it was 9 yards per catch — or 8.7, to be exact.
“Nine?” Dooley said. “I thought it was 8.7, but you can round it to nine, I guess. But I think the tackling was good.”
Cobb, who also lost a fumble against UT for a second consecutive year, obviously wasn’t in the mood for jokes after another loss to his former favorite team.
“It’s hard,” Cobb said. “We turn over the ball in critical times, but they beat us. They did what they had to do and found a way to win. It comes down to whose game plan worked the best, and obviously theirs did.”
Cobb said his postgame emotions were “indescribable.”
“We were in positions and didn’t capitalize,” he said. “What it comes down to is execution, and we didn’t do that.”
Good start spoiled
The game couldn’t have started much better for UT. But the next few minutes couldn’t have gone much worse.
Da’Rick Rogers, a true freshman wide receiver from Calhoun, Ga., returned the opening kickoff 78 yards to the Kentucky 17-yard line. But senior wide receiver Denarius Moore bobbled and couldn’t corral a touchdown catch in bounds on third-and-3, and senior Daniel Lincoln missed a 28-yard field goal. It was Lincoln’s first miss of the season after a 9-for-9 start.
The Cats compounded the problem by promptly driving 80 yards and opening the scoring with senior tailback Derrick Locke’s 17-yard touchdown run.
“You always want to come out and score points after a big return like that,” Rogers said. “But we have a pretty strong offense, and we’re getting better ... and I felt like we could score later on in the game.”
Rogers, whose biggest impact on UT’s offense as a runner on fly sweeps and end-arounds, had 30 yards on three rushes Saturday.
“Sometimes it feels like I’m playing running back, but as many athletes as we have, you’ve got to do something to get everybody the ball,” said Rogers, who has 124 yards this season on just 14 carries. “I’ll take it. It keeps on working.”
Dooley’s good hands
Dooley said he caught two errant throws from Tyler Bray during the game to teach his team a lesson.
“I’m just showing them it’s not hard to catch the football,” said Dooley, a former wide receiver at Virginia. “Next I’m going to go catch some punts, just to show them.”
The Vols, who have muffed or fumbled seven punts this season, didn’t catch a punt Saturday. Junior cornerback Anthony Anderson, who muffed one in UT’s win at Vanderbilt, dropped deep to return all but one of the punts but didn’t catch any of them for various reasons. Mostly they weren’t close enough to be fielded.
“Progress,” Dooley said with a smile.
This and that
Bray’s 345 passing yards Saturday were a career high, as were his 20 completions and 38 attempts, but the true freshman has surpassed 300 yards in three of his four career starts. Senior wide receiver Gerald Jones compared Bray to a basketball shooting guard who never stays cold too long because he doesn’t think about his misses.
Kentucky senior quarterback Mike Hartline said he was especially disappointed because the Wildcats “had a great game plan” for the Vols. “I don’t think we were the worst team here. We just didn’t execute. They played better. Hats off to them.”
Sophomore cornerback Marsalis Teague, who has battled turf toe throughout the second half of the season, returned to UT’s starting lineup Saturday in place of redshirt freshman Eric Gordon and led the Vols with nine first-half tackles. Sophomore safety Janzen Jackson had eight tackles at the break. Each finished with 11 stops.
UT’s 14 second-quarter points were a season high in Neyland Stadium. The Vols’ season high was a 27-point outburst in the second quarter of a blowout win at Memphis.
The unbeaten, 24th-ranked UT men’s basketball team was honored during a first-quarter timeout for its Friday NIT Season Tip-Off championship win over seventh-ranked Villanova in Madison Square Garden. ... Former All-SEC defenders Jonathan Brown and Ron McCartney were honored before kickoff as UT’s legends of the game.