Danny Parker's take
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Another offseason where Tennessee not only reached the postseason but capped things with a victory over a Big Ten opponent. The Volunteers took down Nebraska 38-24 in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in front of 68,496 at Nissan Stadium.
Butch Jones made sure everyone listening knew that his Volunteers have won 15 of their last 19 and became the first Tennessee team since 1994-96 to win three straight bowl games. Impressive numbers both along with a second straight 9-4 record.
It’s hard to think that one player and one play overshadowed a season finale, but this one may have done that with Antioch native Derek Barnett registered career sack No. 33 to surpass the late Reggie White in the Tennessee record book. Vols fans fittingly chanted, “Barnett! Barnett!” both in the fourth quarter and as he made his way to lead the Proud of the Southland Marching Band next to teammate Joshua Dobbs following the conclusion.
First saw Barnett as an underclassmen at Brentwood Academy while the Eagles played against Christian Brothers in Memphis. Had heard about him heading into that night. He’s only gotten better and progressed ever since. If he decides to declare for the NFL Draft, he will be greatly missed in 2017 — both on the defensive line and in a leadership role.
Joshua Dobbs not only ended his four-year career at Tennessee in winning fashion, but he completed 23 of 38 passes for 291 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. The Aerospace Engineering major also ran it 11 times for a net of 118 yards and three more scores (10, 2, 3). That’s how your’e supposed to put a bow on it.
“It's been a heck of a ride,” Dobbs said. “As you said, I've had my share of adversity and I've had my share of success during my time at Tennessee. You know, I'm honored for both, because both I know really are going to help me throughout the rest of my life, whether it's the NFL or whether it's off the field in whatever I do. I'm thankful for all the wonderful moments I've been able to share at the University of Tennessee. I'm thankful for just the opportunity to wear the T on my chest and on my helmet. It's been a heck of a ride, and I'm with the guys who are at the right of me, and I wouldn't go to war with anyone else.”
Junior wide receiver Josh Malone caught five balls for 120 yards, coming just 28 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark on the season. Questions remain as to whether or not he’ll return for his senior season. Best guess as of this moment is he will.
Darrin Kirkland Jr., LaTroy Lewis and Cortez McDowell each had seven tackles to lead the Tennessee defense. Kirkland and Jonathan Kongbo had two TFLs apiece. Nebraska totaled just 61 rushing yards on 28 attempts and was forced into 23 incomplete passes.
Aaron Medley banged home a 46-yard field goal for one of deepest kicks of his Vols career. He also kicked three touchbacks. Punter Trevor Daniel averaged a so-so 43.3 yards per punt but dropped two inside the 10-yard line. Tyler Byrd’s fumble on a kickoff return opened the door for the Cornhuskers.
Special teams: C
Scott Hall's take
For one brief moment when Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs and Derek Barnett took the podium to lead the Proud of the Southland Marching band it was a perfect night in Big Orange Country. However one good win cannot overshadow what is sure to be a long offseason.
Friday we saw a defense that pressured the quarterback and made it tough on an offense to run the ball. Bob Shoop and company slammed the door shut on the running game, allowing less than 100 yards. Take away a few big plays where the Nebraska wideout won one-on-one battles, the defense was excellent. It was by far the best performance by the defense since the leaves changed colors. Jonathon Kongo played his best game on the interior of the line and Barnett was relentless and came Tennessee’s all-time sacks leader with career hit No. 33 coming late in the game.
Offensively, it was an example of how potent the Vols offense can be. Scoring 38 points seems like a great effort and for many reasons it was but the offense left points on the field. Seemingly the Vols could have named their score if they had held on to some passes and eliminated a few negative plays. Dobbs was unstoppable again. Dobbs had over 400 yards of offense. Make no mistake, that man will be missed sorely next year.
It was not the best night on special teams. Aaron Medley kicked two kickoffs out of bounds but did make a 46-yard field goal. Tyler Byrd had a key fumble returning a kick.
Overall this was solid ending to a season that full of ups and downs. It gave a taste in the mouths of Big Orange fans to go into the offseason.
Time will tell but from the reaction from a number of Tennessee staff members after the game, change is coming on Rocky Top.