Watching with Ward
Tennessee Stat Book
NASHVILLE - The recorders were set and it was his time to explain what was on his mind after the hectic, deja vu end to Thursday's 30-27 Music City Bowl double overtime loss to North Carolina, but Derek Dooley needed a second.
Instead of lamenting on the loophole North Carolina was able to utilize to score an extra play at the end of regulation, the Tennessee coach centered his focus on how the Vols could have avoided an ending that was ultimately put in the hands of the officials.
"There were a lot of opportunities before the end to win the game," he said. "Anytime the result doesn't go your way, the first you thing you should do is say 'What could we have done differently to change the outcome?'
"There were a lot of things there, especially down the stretch."
Prodded for a more visceral reaction, Dooley chuckled, then stuck to his earlier instincts.
"What do you say?" he asked. 'We had a lot of chances prior to that."
Those opportunities occurred as early as the first quarter and as late as the second overtime, when the Vols couldn't keep the Tar Heels off the board following freshman quarterback Tyler Bray's interception on the preceding possession.
North Carolina came into Thursday's game much like the Vols: all pass, no run. But even without starter Anthony Elzy, who was academically ineligible, the Tar Heels were able to gash the Vols early, as Shaun Draughn blew by a number of would-be tacklers on his way to an early, crowd-quieting 58-yard touchdown run.
The Vols appeared to have momentum in hand going into halftime when freshman Da'Rick Rogers hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass with 1:30 to play in the second quarter, but the Tar Heels, who struggled to do much of anything after Draughn's big run, found new life against soft UT coverage. T.J. Yates' 39-yard touchdown pass to Erik Highsmith came on a broken play where cornerback Prentiss Waggner was a good 10 yards behind Highsmith.
Daniel Lincoln's missed extra point on UT's go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter set the Tar Heels up for the hectic final seconds, allowing them the luxury to use a field goal to send the game into overtime. It was his third and final missed of his career.
"We kick a ball low on an extra point," Dooley said matter-of-factly as he shook his head.
Though the Vols stopped the Tar Heels on their initial possession following the Vols' fourth quarter score, the defense was summoned back on the field late for the fateful possession because UT couldn't pick up a first down to run out the clock. The Vols came into Thursday's game ranked as one of the worst rushing teams in the country, and they didn't do anything that surprised Dooley, gaining just 27 yards on 29 carries.
"How much did the running game affect? It's the same as every other game," Dooley said. "Inadequate. Inept."
Given an opportunity to pin the Tar Heels deep in their own territory, Chad Cunningham sailed a punt into the end zone, giving North Carolina the ball on its 20-yard line with 31 seconds to play.
Safety Janzen Jackson, who made a highlight-reel interception in UT's own end zone earlier in the half, was at the center of controversy on the final drive's first play. As Todd Harrelson caught a 28-yard pass near the sidelines, Jackson launched his body into Harrelson's back and was flagged for leading with his helmet. The net gain of the play was 45 yards and the Tar Heels were all of a sudden in UT territory.
"I didn't quite understand that but I guess that's the rule," Dooley said.
And though the game was officially announced over - before it wasn't again - senior defensive end Gerald Williams lost his cool after Casey Barth's game-tying field goal, as he tossed his helmet in disgust on his way off the field. The 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty allowed the Tar Heels to start their first overtime possession on the Vols' 10, leading to an easy touchdown that pinned the Vols against the wall.
"Our guy lost his cool and the game wasn't over," Dooley said.
Dooley, however, did not lose his cool after the final chaotic chapter of his first season at UT.