Tennessee Stat Book
Watching with Ward
Derek Dooley’s gutsy gamble ultimately didn’t result in points.
But the successful fake punt the Tennessee coach called in the third quarter of the Vols’ 24-14 win over Kentucky on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium was nowhere close to being a total waste.
“Two things happened,” Dooley said. “(Kentucky) started the next drive on the 20, so we changed field position; and we ate up clock to let the defense recover (and) adjust.
“So I think even though we didn’t get points out of it, it helped.”
The Wildcats appeared to have seized some momentum in the second half after a 76-yard, game-tying touchdown drive and were set to get the ball back after three incompletions by UT quarterback Tyler Bray.
On fourth-and-10 from the UT 24, freshman Michael Palardy, who took over the full-time punting duties for the first time this season with Chad Cunningham’s hand injury, took off for a 16-yard gain.
“That series, when it was second-and-10 I started thinking about it if we didn’t get a first down,” Dooley said. “We (had) to do something.”
Palardy had three options on the play: a pass to Tyler Wolf, a run or a rugby-style punt. Kentucky’s safety covered Wolf, leaving a lane for Palardy.
“It had worked all week throughout practice, I would say 95 percent of the time,” Palardy said. “If everyone does their job, the play is executed perfectly. (Linebacker) Nick Reveiz is my lead blocker and I don’t think there’s anything better than that.”
Though the drive ended on Bray’s interception in the end zone, it was UT’s second successful fake punt for this season. Cunningham ran 25 yards for a first down against South Carolina.
“Every time I call that stuff, I let it slip out of my mouth, and then I go, ‘Why did I do that? Why did I do that? Why did I do that? Why did I do that? Oh good, I’m glad I did it,’” Dooley said rocking back and forth in his chair.
“That’s the life of the coach. It works, so you look good, and if it didn’t work, they’d probably gone up on us and we’d be in here wondering why we did that.”
“I think Coach Dooley’s calls have earned a lot of respect from our players,” Palardy said. “A lot of people have trust and have faith in me that I’m going to run it, have faith in the coaches that they’re going to make the right call and have faith in themselves for everything being executed well.”
Ruined Return: Freshman receiver Da’Rick Rogers ripped off a 78-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff, though that big special-teams play also didn’t lead to points after Daniel Lincoln yanked his 28-yard field-goal try wide left for his first miss of the season.
“When I turned the corner I thought I was gone, but when I got to about the 20-yard line my legs gave out on me,” Rogers said. “I don’t know if I got so excited that my body just shut down, I don’t know what happened.
“You always want to come out score points after a big return like that, but we have a pretty strong offense. We’re getting better, we’re young and we can score later on in the game.”
Good Hands, Coach: Dooley showed he hasn’t lost his skills from his playing days as a receiver at Virginia when he made two sideline grabs on errant Bray throws.
“It’s called bad throws,” Dooley quipped. “I’m just showing you it’s not hard to catch the football. I’m going to go catch some punts next just to show ’em.”
UT didn’t allow its season-long woes with catching punts to be a factor —the Vols fielded just one of Kentucky’s five punts.
Status Updates: The Vols managed to get through the regular-season finale without suffering any apparent in-game injuries.
Cunningham’s hand injury limited him to kickoff duties and also forced backup quarterback Matt Simms to hold for field goals.
Freshman Zach Fulton started at right guard for the first time since an ankle injury against Memphis limited him for two games.
Marsalis Teague started at cornerback for the first time since the Alabama game. Turf toe forced Teague to miss the Memphis game and limited him against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.