One former Tennessee coach (who lost to Notre Dame Saturday) put it simply last season when asked how the Volunteers had beaten Kentucky for the 25th straight time.

“We are Tennessee, and they are Kentucky,” he said.

It really is that simple.

Even for the slow learners of the Beer Barrel rivalry, Kentucky running back Derrick Locke’s inexplicable fumble at the UT goal line should have ended all doubt about the game’s outcome.

Tennessee was going to win.

The Wildcats racked up 156 yards and 11 first downs in the first quarter and controlled the ball for 11 of the 15 minutes, yet led the Vols just 7-0. For comparison, UT gained 28 yards and earned just one first down in the game’s opening quarter.

Tennessee tied the game a minute into the second quarter on Tyler Bray’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Gerald Jones, and Kentucky would never regain the lead.

To their credit, the Wildcats managed to tie the game early in the third quarter at 14 but failed to score the rest of the game, ensuring the Vols’ winning streak over Kentucky would extend to 26 games, the longest in the nation by teams who play on a yearly basis.

The victory also gave Tennessee its sixth win of the season, making it bowl eligible.

This is a huge accomplishment for first-year coach Derek Dooley, who should receive some consideration for SEC Coach of the Year for finding a way to win as many games as he lost, with an inexperienced team that lacked the needed depth to fully compete in the SEC.

The Vols had chances to give up on the season, especially after falling to 2-6 following a loss at South Carolina.

But Dooley and the Vols went from potentially being the worst team Tennessee had ever fielded to a team that will play in the postseason.

Just ask Texas how hard it is to win that sixth game and become bowl eligible.

The Longhorns bring in a top-five recruiting class every February, but just a year after playing for the BCS National Championship game, it couldn’t muster enough fight to defeat rival Texas A&M to finish with a .500 record.

Unlike Texas, the Vols righted the ship in large part from the leadership of its senior class.

Fifteen seniors ran through the T for the final time before Saturday’s game, and UT fans should’ve given each one of them a standing ovation.

Those 15 Vols endured three head coaches and failed to win a championship — so far.

Under Dooley, Tennessee will — not if, but will — win championships in the future, and those 15 seniors will be deserving of a ring and more for helping lay the foundation and showing underclassmen how a championship team should go to work each day, on and off the field.

Saturday’s outcome, though expected, was a fitting way for the UT seniors to leave Neyland Stadium.

Senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz was the last to leave the field and said after the game he wanted to spend the night on Shields-Watkins Field still wearing his jersey and pads.

Reveiz is just one example of the 15 players in the senior class that withstood more adversity than any other in UT history.

“I was proud of them,” Dooley said of the seniors. “How can you not be? I think their class, half of them aren’t even here through attrition, whatever — all the stuff that happened to these guys. They were the few that stuck with it and loved Tennessee. They didn’t care what happened. They believed in Tennessee.

“They got rewarded (on Saturday) for sticking to it, so I am proud of them. And I thanked them. I appreciate what they’ve given to me because they’ve given me their all. And that’s not an easy thing to do.”

All UT players touch a sign before each game that reads: “I will give my all for Tennessee today,” and these 15 seniors took that to heart.

And they were rewarded for that by extending the winning streak over Kentucky and getting to play in a bowl game.