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By KEITH TAYLOR
KNOXVILLE Ã¢â‚¬â€ Kentucky coach Joker Phillips had plenty of blame to spread around following his teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 24-14 loss to Tennessee Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
He could have pointed fingers at the offense, which had three turnovers. He could have blamed the defense, which surrendered 354 yards passing against the Volunteers.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just offense, it was not just the defense, but it was the special teams also,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We gave up long returns.Ã¢â‚¬Â
One of those runs was on the opening kickoff when DaRick Rogers almost scored on a 78-yard run, before he was stopped inside the red zone. Although the Volunteers missed a 28-yard field goal following the long run by Rogers, it gave the hosts momentum for the remainder of the contest. Rogers had three kickoff returns for 114 yards.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That first opening kickoff was big,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kentucky tight end Tyler Robinson said.
The long runs on punt and kickoff returns hurt the Cats throughout the contest, but problems in the kicking game also played a role down the stretch, especially in the fourth quarter. The biggest letdown came after Phillips opted against taking a chance on fourth-and-two at the Tennessee 37-yard line with 13 minutes remaining in the contest.
Kentucky kicker Ryan Tydlacka booted the ball into the end zone for a touchback instead of placing the pigskin instead the 5-yard line to give the defense a chance to stop the hosts on a long field situation. On the ensuing series, Tennessee, which led 21-14 at the time, connected on a 36-yard field goal, giving the hosts necessary spacing between the two teams throughout the remainder of the contest.
Following the contest, Phillips defended his decision to punt the ball away instead of taking a chance.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We decided to punt the football and try to back them up, get them stopped and get the ball back in good field position,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We had three timeouts at the time and they didn’t put anybody back deep.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Throughout the contest Phillips Ã¢â‚¬Å“instructedÃ¢â‚¬Â kicker Ryan Tydlacka to keep the ball out of the end zone, notably if the team was involved in a short-field situation, because, Ã¢â‚¬Å“thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nobody backÃ¢â‚¬Â when his team had the advantage with the short field. It didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t happen once, but twice.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We just didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get it (the play) executed,Ã¢â‚¬Â the Kentucky coach said.
In the third quarter, Tennessee successfully executed a fake punt on fourth-and-10 and advanced to the Kentucky 6-yard line, but a Mychal Bailey interception in the end zone stalled the drive and prevented a possible Tennessee touchdown.
Even though the Volunteers were turned away on the drive, it allowed the hosts to keep KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offense off the field for an extended period of time.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like a turnover,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one less possession that we had.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Bailey said the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s miscues in all three phases led to the teams downfall.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We had a bunch of letdowns that we could have avoided,Ã¢â‚¬Â Bailey said.
It was that kind of day for the Wildcats and a 26-game winning streak lives on for the Volunteers.