Tennessee Moves On From Vandy Loss
By Dan Harralson
Tennessee officially is mired in its worst stretch in school history. Only once in Vols football history has the team experienced four consecutive losing seasons (1902-06).
Whether fans blame Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley or Mike Hamilton, the Vols seem to be on a path to becoming an SEC contender again, but this season won't end in a bowl game.
A loss to Vandy gave the Commodores back-to-back wins over Tennessee for the first time since 1925-26. James Franklin has turned Vanderbilt into not only a respectable SEC opponent, but part of the reason why Tennessee's season ends this weekend. The Vols always counted on wins against Kentucky, Vanderbilt and at least three non-conference games, which has not been the case since Phillip Fulmer left after the 2008 season.
Vanderbilt quarterback Patton Robinette ended the Vols' bowl hopes with a five-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left to clinch a 14-10 victory over Tennessee. The Vols defense played well, only giving up 285 yards, winning third down and creating four turnovers.
The Vols lost the game in the special teams category. Michael Palardy has been outstanding since taking over both punting and kicking, but Saturday evening was not his night. Palardy had a 27-yard punt, a bad missed field goal and an interception on a fake field goal.
Where Do Both Programs Go From Here?
Vanderbilt is 7-4 and plays at Wake Forest to conclude the regular season. Any result should keep Vandy in the mix for two bowl games. The Music City Bowl appears to have Georgia locked into it, leaving the Commodores in line for the Liberty Bowl or the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham.
As for the future, James Franklin has the Vandy football program at an all-time high and it appears that he should continue to keep the team competitive as long as he stays. Franklin should get other job offers, but staying, having zero pressure and being the school's greatest head coach will speak volumes if he chooses to listen.
Tennessee isn't going bowling like Derek Dooley's last two seasons, but Butch Jones already has a signature win and a young quarterback that should continue to grow in Jones' offensive system. The future is bright and Jones' recruiting class coming in can determine how bright the 2014 Vols may shine. The Vols have to become accustomed to no longer considering games against Vanderbilt as automatic wins.
UT Stays Focused For Kentucky
A meaningless game will take place in Lexington on Saturday, but Jones will try and rally the troops to end the 2013 season on a high note.
"If you are a competitor, it's another opportunity to compete, another opportunity to represent Tennessee," Jones told reporters. "We have one opportunity left as Team 117, as a football family, then we're moving on to next year."
Tennessee is 0-4 on the road, all against ranked teams, and a win at Kentucky would give the Vols road confidence for next season.
"We have to prove we can go on the road and win football games, and we have a lot to play for," Jones said at his Monday press conference.
Tennessee will need to transfer signing-day confidence and a talented, Top-5 recruiting class into 2014 road contests at Oklahoma, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.