LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It was the loss Tennessee fans were hoping would never come.
Despite the hell the Volunteers and their fan base had been through since 2008, they could still hang their heads on beating Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
After Tyler Bray’s interception on fourth-and-18, and three knees in the victory formation, it happened.
The Vols lost to Kentucky.
Sure, the ass-kickings Florida and Alabama gave UT in recent years hurt. Sure, the 49-7 loss at Arkansas earlier this year was bad. But those teams were much better than UT, maybe not as much as the scores indicated, but at the end of the day, Tennessee wasn’t supposed to win those games.
Tennessee was supposed to beat Kentucky on Saturday. No other way around it.
Yeah, Tyler Bray was nowhere near being 100 percent. Yeah, Justin Hunter missed the last nine games. Heck, even throw in injured linebacker Herman Lathers and dismissed safety Janzen Jackson into the argument.
But that was the same Tennessee team that beat Vanderbilt just a week before. A Commodores team that beat Kentucky 38-7 earlier this year.
There was no excuse for the Vols to lose that game to arguably the worst Wildcats team since UT’s 26 game-winning streak began in 1985.
None. Zero.
Whatever Derek Dooley said UT accomplished beating Vanderbilt is gone after ending the regular season on that note.
The Vols played with no heart. I would say they quit, but you’d have to play to quit.
Kentucky played like the team fighting for a bowl bid.
Result-wise, year two under Dooley was a failure. But the loss on Saturday showed a bigger problem.
Dooley failed to have the team fired up and ready to play when the season was on the line.
That embarrassing loss to a piss-poor team — even by Kentucky standards — with a wide receiver playing quarterback is squarely on Dooley.
Year three under Dooley was the first time fans could reasonably expect UT to compete with the top-half of the SEC.
But after that season-ending loss, when can a realistic Vol fan expect a program coming off a 5-7 year that lost to Kentucky for the first time in a generation to turn things around and start playing with heart and pride?
Yes, this team lacks talent and depth, but that’s no excuse for not showing up against one of the worst teams on your schedule, especially with The Streak and a bowl game on the line.
Had Bray found a way to lead the Vols on a last-minute drive to win the game, this team’s problems would still exist — fans just wouldn’t be so outspoken about them.
The fact that UT couldn’t make just a few plays to win a game against a Kentucky team that was begging Tennessee to win should be alarming.
If performances like Saturday and seasons like this one continue to happen under Dooley, UT is in serious trouble.
Tennessee shouldn’t be a program that hangs its hat on “kicking the sh-- out of Vanderbilt.”