Defense sparks UT win

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The defense did it again, and the Tennessee offense bumbled through to 27 points and a season-closing victory over border rival Kentucky, avoiding the lower than rock bottom ending of the SEC East cellar.

That's reserved for the Wildcats, who proved they deserve it by failing to put up points off of the Vols' offensive miscues and turnovers.

The result was a tentative celebration by Tennessee coaches and players.

"It was a great start to next year and a great end to this season for the seniors," UT offensive lineman Arron Sears said. "Every game we've beaten ourselves this season, but today we came out and capitalized on things."

To be more exact, Kentucky didn't capitalize on things, making it a little easier for the offense to get away with the majority of the 10 Tennessee penalties in the contest, not to mention three fumbles that ultimately could have resulted in touchdowns.

"It's been frustrating all year long," Sears said of the penalties that stalled drives and/or gave the Wildcats good field position on punts. "That's something we have to work on next season. It all goes back to discipline."

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge had a mixed performance in playing the entire game. He was 17 of 25 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but he was also sacked three times and grounded the ball for a safety.

"We wanted to start the game with high percentage, short passes to get into the flow of the game," Ainge said. "That was our game plan -- to run the football and then throw high percentage passes."

It was a plan that worked against an inconsistent Kentucky defense. Arian Foster continued to show why he could have had an impact earlier in the season, rushing for 114 yards on 26 carries, but he also had two impressive touchdown runs nullified by penalties.

The first was a 55-yard dash from one side of the field to the other and then down the sideline early in the game. The second was a pass from Ainge that Foster converted into a 78-yard run to the end zone.

"You can't dwell on that. That's football," Foster said of having his two biggest plays flagged. "You got to give credit to the offensive line. I just go out and run the football."

Defensively, the Volunteers had another in a series of impressive outings, refusing to allow the Wildcats to take advantage of opportunities presented by turnovers, especially early in the game. UT held Kentucky to only 46 yards rushing and 177 through the air.

"It's good to get a win," senior linebacker Kevin Simon said. "We made mistakes, but we also made our plays on both sides of the ball.

"I'm blessed to have had this opportunity and hopefully it'll springboard me into a successful (NFL) future."

Simon left the field slowly and said later he wanted to absorb things in his final college contest.

"I was taking in the fans, taking in the victory, taking in college football," Simon said. "Nothing is as exciting as college football. I wanted to cherish every last moment of it. It's been a great experience for me."

Tennessee's ability to mount a lead in the game also allowed the defense to become more free-ranging, defensive coordinator John Chavis said, one of the few times this season that's happened.

"You get a chance to pin your ears back and go," he said. "Our seniors have a game to remember for sure."

The four sacks of Kentucky quarterbacks Andre Woodson and Curtis Pulley ensure that, as well as the four second-half turnovers committed by the Wildcats.

"That was good to see," Chavis said. "We haven't created enough turnovers this season despite all of the good things we've done this year."

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer also expressed some mixed feelings about the victory. He was glad to have it for the seniors but wished for a better outcome overall, especially, though it was unspoken, now that more than one assistant coach will likely be dismissed in the coming week.

"Do I look elated?" Fulmer said. "It's good to get a win. I think our kids showed a lot of pride.

"For this team, I wish we had two weeks of practice and a bowl game to play, but you take whatever lessons you've learned in life or otherwise and make the most of them."

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