A year full of injury, adversity, and arguably one of the toughest schedule’s in college football history has finally come to an end for Tennessee football.
The Vols capped off year one of the Butch Jones era on Saturday night with a win over northern rival Kentucky.
After jumping out to a quick 20-0 lead in the first half, Tennessee hung on to beat the Wildcats for the 28th time in the last 29 contests 27-14.
There were plenty of positives to be found in the Vols’ season finale victory over Kentucky, from both underclassmen returning next year, and departing seniors.
Perhaps the biggest night came from true-freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs, who finally posted his first points as a Vol. In fact, he went on to score three touchdowns of his own, two passing and one rushing, to help lead Tennessee past the Wildcats.
Dobbs finished completing 14-of-23 passes for 200 yards, along with 51 yards rushing, 40 of which came on his touchdown run in the second quarter. His first touchdown pass came on a slightly under-thrown pass that redshirt-freshman wide receiver Jason Croom had to tip away and snatch from a Kentucky defensive back to corral in the endzone.
Croom also had a big night before exiting early with an unspecified injury to his shoulder. In just two receptions he led the team in receiving yards with 74, along with the afore mentioned turnover.
It wasn’t just the young guys that had a big night. Departing seniors Raijon Neal and Corey Miller had especially big night’s for the Vols.
Neal became the first Vol to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season since Tauren Poole did it in 2010. He rushed for 133 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game to put Tennessee on top early. His run seemed to set the tone early for the offense which posted 20 points in the first half, the most they’ve scored in a single half of play since playing Western Kentucky in the second game of the season.
On the other side of the ball it was Miller who had a record setting night. The outgoing senior who originally committed to a Lane Kiffin led Tennessee team finished his final game in orange and white with four-and-a-half sacks, breaking the single game record set by former Vol, and NFL great, Reggie White.
With no bowl game to look forward to, a long season full of up-and-down emotions comes to a close for Tennessee. It’ll be their fourth straight losing season as they finish the 2013 campaign at 5-7 like they have the two seasons prior that resulted in no bowl game as well.
Jones has already taken a step towards building to the future by having to play several freshmen this season, getting them exposure to what they can expect when they see even more playing time next year once the upperclassmen have departed.
Couple this year’s freshman with a notable recruiting class Jones and his staff has put together for next year, ranked No.2 by national recruiting outlets, and it’s clear the future is looking much brighter than it has in years prior. Only thing to be seen now is if they can take these newcomers and restore Tennessee to glory.
The Vols won’t return to the gridiron until Aug. 30 of 2014 when they face Utah State to open year two under coach Jones.