"That's what they do," Tennessee had man Derek Dooley said. "They're really a ball-control offense that throws it and runs it. They've got as good of an offense as anybody in the league."
Indeed. The ball-controlling Wildcats maintained possession for 21:21 of the game's first 30 minutes. That means Vol defenders got to rest just 8:39 of the entire first half. To their credit, they fought through fatigue and limited a Kentucky offense that came in averaging 34.7 points per game to 14.
The Wildcats helped out by coughing up fumbles at the Vol 1-yard line and the Big Blue 44-yard line, then surrendering an interception at the Vol 32-yard line.
"The key is, No. 1, we got a big turnover there," Dooley said of the goal-line fumble recovery. "We were real fortunate because they were about to go up on us (14-0) in the first half."
"We didn't give up huge plays," Dooley said. "We made them work and work, and if we made a play it gave us a chance to stop them. The best part about our defense is we didn't give up big plays. We just kept playing and rallying to the football."
After trouncing UT Martin of the Football Championship Subdivision 50-0 in the opener, Tennessee allowed 445 yards and 34.9 points per contest in Games 2-7. In the four outings since then (Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, UK), the Vols have allowed just 331 yards and 13.0 points per game.
Some observers credit the better numbers to lesser opposition. Dooley disagrees.
"Our defense, if you look at the last four games, has done a phenomenal job," he said. "They were getting maligned. We were giving up a lot of points. I'm proud of them for that."
Already leading 7-0, Kentucky appeared ready to go up 14-0 when it had a first-and-goal at the Vol 1-yard line late in the first quarter. Derrick Locke fumbled a handoff from Hartline, however, and Nick Reveiz saved the day by recovering in the end zone for a touchback. Tennessee scored six plays later to forge a 7-7 tie. Clearly, Reveiz' recovery was a monumental turn of events.
"To have the opportunity to make that play in the end zone, that was by the grace of God," the senior linebacker said. "That ball just squirted out right in front of me. It happened so fast I really don't know what happened. All I know is that when I saw that ball, I was getting it. No one else was getting it."
After being shredded for 158 yards on UK's first two possessions, Tennessee's defense allowed just 232 the rest of the game.
"I don't know how great we did or if we had an incredible performance or if we had a poor performance," Reveiz said. "But I do know this: I do know that we had adversity call early and I feel like our defense never quit. Our offense never quit.
"It didn't matter what it was. We were going to answer the bell and we were going to win. I can't say enough about this team and the perseverance I've seen these guys show from freshman to senior. It's just been incredible."
Junior cornerback Prentiss Waggner seems to have a knack for showing up where the football is.
Waggner intercepted a pass for the third consecutive weekend Saturday in Game 12 vs. Kentucky. He also had picks in Game 10 vs. Ole Miss and Game 11 at Vanderbilt.
Incredibly, Waggner has returned three of his five interceptions this fall for touchdowns. He had a 54-yard scoring return vs. UT Martin in Game 1, a 9-yard scoring return in Game 4 vs. UAB and a 10-yard scoring return in Game 10 vs. Ole Miss.
In addition to his team-high five picks, Waggner leads the Vols in fumble recoveries with three. He returned one of those 37 yards vs. Memphis.
BUSY DAY FOR TEAGUE
Sophomore cornerback Marsalis Teague had a busy afternoon on Saturday, recording a career-high nine tackles by halftime. He finished with a team-high 11 stops.