Tennessee Stat Book
Watching with Ward
Tennessee's senior receivers spotted the Kentucky defense a quarter Saturday, a result, they said, of the malaise that can typically linger shortly after the pre-game pageantry of Senior Day.
Not even a 78-yard kickoff return by freshman Da'Rick Rogers to open the game was enough to wake up Gerald Jones.
"Da'Rick made that big play," Jones said. "And I was still in a trance."
A trio of veterans made up for it in a big way with their respective efforts in the second, third and fourth quarters of UT's 24-14 bowl-clinching victory over Kentucky.
It was a fitting end for Jones, Denarius Moore and tight end Luke Stocker. The disappointing start followed by a resounding finish was their senior season in a nutshell.
"It's one of those things where we just set our mind to it and we want to go out and have more production from ourselves," Stocker said. "We challenged ourselves and challenged each other and we responded well."
It wasn't just a response. It was complete control of the Tyler Bray-navigated passing game.
Moore became the first receiver in UT history to notch two 200-yard receiving games not just in a season, but for a career. Jones notched his sixth consecutive game with at least four catches, finishing with six receptions for 77 yards. Stocker wrapped up his UT career with at least one catch in every game this year, tying his season-high with five receptions for 55 yards.
Outside of his 17-yard completion to freshman fullback Channing Fugate early in the fourth quarter and a no-gain screen to tailback Tauren Poole earlier in the game, Bray completed all of his passes to the senior trio.
Really, Bray embodied the Senior Day theme by barely targeting anyone who wasn't playing their last game at Neyland Stadium.
"It's been great having them," Bray said. "We have routes where they haven't been the called route, but they've had to make something up and it works.
"Just having them with game experience, it helps us a lot."
That was the thought at the beginning of the season, too, but it took a few injury hurdles and a 2-6 start to the season before all three started clicking at the same time.
Jones missed four games with a broken hand, all but debilitating the Vols on third downs. Stocker caught two passes or less in four of the first six games. Moore went through a three-game stretch in October where he had just four catches for 37 yards and only played two snaps against Alabama.
Coach Derek Dooley didn't hesitate to call the players out for their lack of production during UT's worst stretch of the season, when seemingly everything was going wrong in the team's 0-for-October.
It didn't fall on deaf ears.
"We took it personal upon ourselves," Moore said. "We sat down and talked to each other about what we need to do. Whether it's coming in and watching more film, picking it up in practice and the tempo, we just wanted to be leaders."
Moore led the way Saturday, overcoming his drop in the end zone for a sure touchdown on the game's first drive by ripping away a jumpball from Kentucky cornerback Randall Burden for a 44-yard gain. One play later, Jones had his third touchdown of the season and UT was done trailing the Wildcats.
Moore caught passes of 49 and 48 yards on the next two drives, as the Vols exploited a Kentucky secondary that came into Saturday's game ranked second in the SEC on pass defense.
"The guy was going loco on everybody," Dooley said, referencing the team's recent celebration gesture that was started by Moore.
"I told him to get some oxygen because we're going to keep throwing it to him and he did great."
Kentucky's respect for Moore's deep-pass capabilities opened up plays to Stocker and Jones on short, underneath routes. Jones notched four catches for 55 yards in the second half, while Stocker picked up three for 30, the bulk of which came on a highlight-reel stampeding of a Kentucky defender for 21 yards.
"I just lowered my shoulder," Stocker said. "I stayed up. He went down."
Faced with the prospect of a postseason-free end to their career, UT's three senior receivers opted to stay up when the only direction appeared to be down.
"It's a big accomplishment," Moore said. "We understood what we had to get done."