By Matt Dixon
KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley has embraced the Tennessee tradition since becoming the Volunteers’ head coach.
Staff Photo by Staff Photo by Dan Henry / Chattanooga Times Free Press - UT's Denarius Moore (6) catches a pass to score his second touchdown of the game as UK's Mikie Benton attempts to cover during the first half of play in Knoxville, Tenn., early Saturday afternoon. The Volunteers won over the Wildcats at home with a final score of 24-14.
Dooley wanted to end one tradition against Kentucky when he was asked earlier in the week about seniors occasionally starting slowly on senior day.
“Is that here? Is that a tradition?” Dooley said. “We’ve got to break that one.”
Emotions were running high for the 15 seniors who each embraced Dooley as they ran through the “T” for their final time.
“I tried to hold it together when Coach Dooley called the seniors up to run through the ‘T’ for the last time. You saw everybody — just tears started flowing,” senior defensive end Chris Walker said. “We didn’t even do anything yet, but it was just something about running through that ‘T’ for the last time and seeing your parents on the sideline and knowing that you are not going to play in Neyland Stadium anymore.
“It was a tough feeling, but we had to come out and still play the game.”
The Vols had distractions during the pregame with family and friends on the field, and some of those distractions appeared to cause a lack of focus early.
“It was tough,” senior receiver Gerald Jones acknowledged. “I was standing out there before the game, thinking about all that’s happened over our careers, good and bad, and all of a sudden I looked at my mom and said, ‘You’ve got to go up in the stands; I’ve got a game to play. Then it started and Denarius [Moore] bobbled that ball away in the end zone and it was obvious we were a little out of sync.”
Moore’s drop came on the Vols’ opening possession. UT had driven to the Kentucky 10 yard-line and faced a third-and-3 when Moore couldn’t cleanly haul in a Tyler Bray pass, costing the Vols a touchdown.
Senior kicker Daniel Lincoln then missed a 28-yard field goal wide left to keep them off the scoreboard.
Senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz was flagged for a late hit on Kentucky’s Randall Cobb late in the first quarter after Cobb’s desperation pass on third-and-2 fell incomplete.
“It was my fault completely,” Reveiz said. “I guess he was out of bounds. Things happen so fast. I always get on the guys about personal fouls ’cause I feel like they are unnecessary and a lot of times you can tell, but at that time I just made a poor decision and I guess it was all the energy.”
Reveiz said he didn’t know the last time he had been called for a penalty, but he didn’t think he had been called for one at Tennessee.
“High school probably,” Reveiz said. “I don’t even remember.”
The uncharacteristic senior mistakes spilled over into the second quarter.
Senior fullback Kevin Cooper from Baylor School came out of the backfield unguarded sprinting wide-open down the UT sideline when he dropped a pass on the first play of the second quarter. Cooper was called for holding on the next UT possession, and a sack on the following play took the Vols out of field-goal range.
The Vols seniors rebounded from the early mistakes and found a way to concentrate on the game at hand. In particular, Jones caught the tying touchdown pass, Reveiz recovered a Kentucky fumble in the end zone and Moore made seven catches for 205 yards and a TD.
“It was of those things you had to focus really hard, because you know what? You’ve got 60 minutes and we’ve got a great team on the other sideline,” Reveiz said.
Dooley was satisfied with the way the UT seniors handled the adversity early in the game as well as everything else they had been through in their Tennessee careers.
“I was proud of them,” Dooley said. “How can you not be?
“They go rewarded today for sticking to it. So I am proud of them. I appreciated what they’ve given to me, because they’ve given me their all. And that’s not any easy thing to do.”