Vols' Berry gets to return a kick

Vols' Berry gets to return a kick

November 29th, 2009 by Wes Rucker in Sports - College

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Lane Kiffin promised a "surprise" with Tennessee All-America junior safety Eric's Berry role at Kentucky earlier this week, and the coach delivered by letting his star return kickoffs Saturday night in Commonwealth Stadium.

Berry dropped deep with primary kick return specialist David Oku, and he finished with 49 yards on two returns.

"I just thought it would be critical to try to get Eric the ball in the last game of the season and see what he could do," Kiffin said. "We felt we had a good return setup, and we knew where they were going to kick the ball."

Saturday wasn't Berry's first collegiate experience as a return specialist. He returned two kicks for a total of 32 yards last season.

Berry also dabbled on offense last season, gaining 37 yards on seven runs.

Kiffin said earlier this season that he flirted with thoughts of Berry on offense and in the return game, but he wanted his star to focus on becoming "the best defensive player in the country."

Berry has maintained all season that he would welcome a chance to help the offense and return game, but he hasn't publicly complained about the lack of opportunities.

"I just want to win," Berry said earlier this season. "I'm down with whatever the coaches want me to do, whether it's just defense or a little bit of everything."

Mathis still kicking

Baylor School graduate Devin Mathis won UT's kicking competition for a second consecutive week.

The junior walk-on competed with former starter Daniel Lincoln for the position all week in practice, but Kiffin didn't announce the winner.

Mathis, who connected on all three extra points and a short field goal in last week's win over Vanderbilt, did the same against Kentucky. The field goal was a 30-yarder and gave the Vols their first lead, 24-21, late in the third quarter.

Kiffin, as expected, chose punter Chad Cunningham to try a 49-yard kick on the final play of the second quarter. The attempt wasn't blocked -- a rarity for long UT tries this season -- but it sailed wide left as time expired.

"We made the decision to go with Mathis, unless it was at a certain length, and then we would go with Cunningham if it was an end of the half scenario," Kiffin said. "If it was any other scenario, we probably would have gone for it or punted.

"He kicked it great. He missed that kick, but I thought Cunningham ... it seemed like it was 15 yards up the upright."

Mathis had to kick off late in the game, too, after Cunningham was helped off the field with an injury. Cunningham was force to punt rugby style after the injury, but he knocked one out of bounds at the Kentucky 7-yard line.

Knoxville Cats

Three Wildcats from Knoxville -- kicker Lones Seiber, tailback Trey Bowland and fullback A.J. Nance -- took part in Saturday's senior night festivities.

Bowland, technically a fourth-year junior who will graduate and forgo his final season of eligibility, was honored with the team's seniors in a pregame ceremony.

Versatile UK sophomore star Randall Cobb and junior wide receiver Kyrus Lanxter both attended Knoxville-area powerhouse Alcoa High School, as well.

Wildcats assistant Randy Sanders, a former UT offensive coordinator and Knoxville-area native, maintained strong recruiting contacts in East Tennessee after leaving the Vols in 2005.

UT closing notes

Vols senior defensive tackle Wes Brown made his second big play in two weeks Saturday night, forcing a Morgan Newton fumble that junior defensive end Willie Bohannon recovered at the UT 34-yard line with 7:35 left in the second quarter. ... Senior weakside linebacker Rico McCoy, who led the Vols with 13 tackles, said UT made one key adjustment to stopping Cobb in the Wildcat after halftime: "We started tackling him."

Vols walk-on fullback Sam Edgmon caught an intentionally skied kickoff in the final minute of the first half and returned it 8 yards to the UT 38-yard line.

UK closing notes

Kentucky didn't use the wildcat formation until its third possession, and they immediately found success with it. Cobb took the first play of the possession 15 yards to the UT 39-yard line, and he pounded forward for 2 yards on a fourth-and-1 moments later. Cobb's 17-yard touchdown run on that drive came from the slot receiver position, though. He took a reverse hand off from tailback Derrick Locke.

Wildcats senior fullback John Conner, a former walk-on nicknamed "Terminator" for his punishing blocks, gained 28 yards on three runs.

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

Gallery: Sceptre Society celebrates Cotton Ball weekend

more photos