Sunday, November 22, 1998
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - 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 straight 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.
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.
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 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 two-point conversion pass from Tee Martin to Bryson. Couch's 3-yard TD pass to Lance Mickelson put Kentucky briefly ahead.
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.
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.
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 from an arm injury in a Lexington, Ky., hospital, was charged with manslaughter and drunken driving. He has a Dec. 17 court date.
Kentucky 7 0 7 7 - 21
Tennessee 14 24 14 7 - 59
TENN-FG Hall 27, 11:05
TENN-FG Hall 32, 7:14
KY-Mickelsen 3 pass from Couch (Hanson kick), 4:56
TENN-Bryson 1 run (Bryson pass from Martin), 1:09
TENN-Wilson 55 pass from Martin (Hall kick), 12:11
TENN-Bryson 58 run (Hall kick), 9:28
TENN-FG Hall 47, 6:16
TENN-Crosby 1 run (Hall kick), 00:16
KY-Homer 1 run (Hanson kick), 10:02
TENN-Henry 2 run (Hall kick), 7:03
TENN-Martin 33 run (Hall kick), 00:00
TENN-Stephens 1 run (Hall kick), 8:41
KY-Mickelsen 3 pass from Couch (Hanson kick), 4:16
First downs 21 21
Rushes-yards 29-39 45-237
Passing 337 229
Comp-Att-Int 35-58-1 15-25-1
Return Yards 12 11
Punts-Avg. 3-36 3-37
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 7-61 8-45
Time of Possession 30:57 29:03
RUSHING-Kentucky, Homer 13-50, Johnson 3-11, White 4-7, Shankin 1-5, Carter 1-2, Couch, 7-(minus 36). Tennessee-Henry 15-67, Bryson 4-63, Martin 8-54, Stephens 11-42, Bartholomew 1-11, Crosby 2-3, Veazey 2-0, Graham 2-(minus 3).
PASSING-Kentucky, Couch 35-56-1-337, Mumme 0-2-0-0. Tennessee, Martin 13-20-0-189, Veazey 2-5-1-40.
RECEIVING-Kentucky, Yeast 7-102, Roobinson 7-74, McCord 5-60, Coleman 5-57, White 5-30, Mickelson 3-7, Homer 2-9, Comstock 1-(minus 2). Tennessee, C.Wilson 4-100, Price 3-60, Finlayson 2-21, Copeland 2-12, Bryson 2-(minus 4), Martin 1-29, Taylor 1-11.