Heart-broken Kentucky never had a chance against No. 1 Tennessee.
Fullback Shawn Bryson ran for two touchdowns, including a 58-yarder in a 24-point second period, as the Volunteers overwhelmed the emotionally-drained Wildcats 59-21 on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee (10-0, 7-0 SEC) took a big step toward playing for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4, while Kentucky (7-4, 4-4) played for the first time since last week's truck crash that killed two men, including one player, and severely injured another player.
"You have to hand it to Tennessee," Kentucky coach Hal Mumme said. "They thumped us pretty good. A lot of it was that we weren't clicking, especially on offense."
"I could tell you after the first few series -- we were flat. You could just see it in their eyes. The truth of the matter is you can't go play against great athletes as a basically emotionless team."
The Vols, SEC East champs for the second consecutive year, can complete a perfect regular season with a win next Saturday at Vanderbilt and a victory in the SEC title game on Dec. 5 against Arkansas or Mississippi State.
"We might have played our best game defensively. Offensively, maybe," coach Phillip Fulmer said after his Vols sacked Tim Couch six times and forced him into numerous errant passes despite being without injured linebacker Al Wilson.
"To hold them down the way we did was special. You have to give our secondary credit, they prepared well."
Tennessee is 10-0 for the first time since 1956, while Kentucky finished its best season since 1984 and awaits its first bowl bid since 1993.
"We're fortunate enough to have another ame to play," safety Jeff Zurcher said. "We're looking forward to working hard and really beat our next opponent and treat it like another regular-season game."
| Tennessee's Travis Henry breaks free from Kentucky's David Johnson during the Volunteers' 59-21 rout of the Wildcats Saturday. (AP) |
After a moment of silence was observed by the crowd of 107,252, the Wildcats forced the Vols to punt, but Couch, whose best friend died in the crash, was unable to generate any offense.
Tennessee was unstoppable, scoring on seven consecutive possessions and rolling to a 38-7 halftime lead.
"We thought we were going to be able to play with them," Couch said after his first of two TD passes gave the Wildcats a 7-6 lead. "But they put a lot of points on the board, and we couldn't go out and execute like we wanted to."
The Vols led 14-7 after the first quarter on two field goals by Jeff Hall and Bryson's 1-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion pass from Tee Martin to Bryson. Couch's 3-yard TD pass to Lance Mickelson put Kentucky briefly ahead.
In the second quarter, Martin threw a 55-yard TD pass to Cedrick Wilson -- the ball traveled 65 yards -- to put the Vols up 21-7.
Less than three minutes later, Bryson got loose on a draw play and ran 58 yards for a score. Hall then kicked his third field goal, a 47-yarder, and backup fullback Philip Crosby scored from a yard out with 16 seconds left in the half.
Martin, who also ran 33 yards for a third-quarter TD, was 13-of-20 for 189 yards. He also carried eight times for 53 yards. Hall finished with 15 points and became the SEC's career leading scorer with 354 points.
Couch, a pallbearer at his friend Scott Brock's funeral on Wednesday, tried to keep Kentucky in the game. But the Heisman Trophy contender had a difficult time with Tennessee's fierce pass rush, led by linebacker Raynoch Thompson.
Couch, who entered the game completing 73.4 percent of his passes, was 35-of-56 for 337 yards and two TDs.
"We wanted to hit him, make him move, take him out of his rhythm," Fulmer said, adding that his defense was embarrassed last season after Couch passed for 476 yards against them.
The junior, who may forgo his final season of eligibility for the NFL draft, finished the year completing 400 of 553 passes for 4,275 yards -- all SEC records -- and 36 TDs. He also broke the NCAA single-season record for completions of 374 set by Houston's David Klingler in 1980.
Even in defeat, the game had to be a welcome distraction for the Kentucky players and coaches trying to cope with a heart-wrenching week. Two days after last Sunday's crash, Jason Watts, the starting center who is recovering fro an arm injury in a Lexington, Ky., hospital, was charged with manslaughter and drunken driving. He has a Dec. 17 court date.
Instead of focusing on their biggest game of the season against the nation's top team, there were bus rides to funerals, practices at night, visits to the hospital and tearful sessions with ministers and bereavement counselors.
The wildcats were unable to stop the Vols in the second half, either. Travis Henry scored on a 1-yard run and Martin ran 33 yards for third-quarter scores and Travis Stephens added a 1-yard TD run.
"I though they played awful hard on both sides of the ball," Fulmer said of the Wildcats. "Certainly, it has to have some affect emotionally. You have to feel for them."
The traditional Beer Barrel, the blue, white and orange-painted trophy that goes to the winner of this annual rivalry, was not displayed "out of respect for the families involved with the tragedy last Sunday in Kentucky," Vols associate athletic director Gary Wyant said.
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