For the final time in 2013 the Tennessee football team will take the field.
Their post-season fate was decided a week ago by in-state rival Vanderbilt, when the Commodores drove the ball 92 yards down-the-field to punch in the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds to go, and keep their arch-rival Tennessee home for the holidays.
A difficult season will finally come to an end for the Vols on Saturday when they travel to Lexington, Ky. to face the Kentucky Wildcats on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
Saturday’s meeting will be the 109th between the two schools, making Kentucky the Vols’ most played opponent historically.
The last time the two faced off inside Commonwealth Stadium Kentucky snapped a 26-game losing streak to the Vols, and kept Tennessee from going to a bowl game for the first in now three consecutive seasons, as well as their second of four-straight losing seasons.
What was worse was Kentucky used a third-string wide receiver at quarterback to beat the Vols, essentially running the ball nearly every play from scrimmage.
Now, three years later, not much has changed Tennessee is still struggling to become the conference, and national, power they once were, while Kentucky is still fighting to just be relevant in something besides college hoops and bluegrass music.
One plus for the Vols this season is the vast improvement in the running game. As a team Tennessee has rushed for 2,043 yards through 11 games. That effort ranks tied for fourth, since their national championship winning season, with the 2009 season, and within 61 yards of moving into third since 1998. It’s also the Vols’ best rushing effort since a 2,418 yard season in 2004.
Leading the Vols’ rushing attack is outgoing senior Raijon Neal, who needs only 10 yards on Saturday to hit the 1,000-yard-mark and would make him the first 1,000 yard rusher for Tennessee since Tauren Poole in 2010. He’s also 33 yards from moving up to 13th all-time on Tennessee’s rushing list, and is only the 14th Vol with 2,000 yards or more on the ground.
While Neal has been a consistent star all season for the Vols, the quarterback play has been a polar opposite.
Butch Jones said Monday that he will stick with freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs, who’s taken over at the quarterback position since Justin Worley went down on the road against Alabama. Since taking over Dobbs has yet to produce a single score of his own, neither on the ground nor through the air, but has been accountable for six turnovers in just 14 quarters of play.
Jones said that while the freshman has at times shown his age, he has progressed throughout the season and is the Vols’ best option at the moment.
He also mentioned that fellow freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson will be redshirted this season, meaning if something were to happen to Dobbs on Saturday Nathan Peterman would get the nod since Worley is still recovering from a thumb injury suffered six weeks ago.