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November 24, 2012

Phillips finishes with 37-17 loss to Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Joker Phillips grey UK sweatshirt was the final reminder. When he stepped out of his clothes, he would be done. After 10 years, he'd be leaving Kentucky.

"My office is emptied out," he said. "I have keys to turn in and we're done."

All that was left was the bus ride back to the campus he'd worked at for 10 years.

Phillips' time as UK coach came to a close with a 37-17 loss to Tennessee on Saturday at Neyland Stadium. The Wildcats (2-10, 0-8 Southeastern Conference) couldn't keep up with the Volunteers' (5-7, 1-7 SEC) offense. UK wrapped up its first winless season in the SEC since 2000 and stumbled to its worst record since going 1-10 in 1994.

It wasn't how the Wildcats wanted the season to end, but it was over.

"I sat there for a while in my pads and jersey," senior center Matt Smith said. "I didn't want to take them off."

Tennessee's deadly passing game wrecked UK's chances of sending Phillips out with one final win. Vol quarterback Tyler Bray went 20-34 for 293 yards and four touchdowns before being pulled late in the fourth quarter.

Junior receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had four catches for 88 yards and a score. Receiver Justin Hunter had three catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Kentucky's trio of freshman corners couldn't hold them back.

"We were playing NFL guys," Phillips said. "They are potential first round guys, maybe even this year. Those guys are big time players."

The UK offense labored up and down the field. The Wildcats finished with 412 yards of total offense -- the most of any SEC game this season -- but failed to finish long drives after the opening score. Three times UK marched for over 40 yards on ten plays or more, but only converted those three drives into a single field goal.

Senior kicker Craig McIntosh missed a 36 yard field goal just before halftime that would have brought UK within three points. UK had the chance to take a lead on the opening drive of the third quarter after driving to the Tennessee four, but a false start penalty and a sack on the next two plays knocked them backwards.

UK had to settle for a field goal, which would be the last points they scored. Tennessee widened the gap from there. Freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow went 29-45 for 225 yards and didn't turn the ball over, but the offense failed to score touchdowns on its last five drives that reached Tennessee territory.

"The thing we couldn't do was get the ball in the end zone," Phillips said. "We had a lot of opportunities in the red zone."

Tennesse scored quickly. Of its five touchdown drives, none took longer than 2:12. UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter said Phillips' tenure was similarly brief.

"What I really feel in this situation and I'm just stating my own opinion, but I think he was unfairly judged as a two-year, ten-game coach," Minter said. "You think about it. Two years and ten games. Anybody that disputes that is wrong.

"They say 'Well, he was this head-coach-in-waiting for two years and he's been here for 10, been here his whole life.' So he was judged unfairly as a head coach. Now, if you want to say that everybody in America should be judged after two years and ten games and pull the cord when you offer them a five-year deal, then what's the reason to have a five-year contract?"

Tennessee finally eased up late with the game in hand. Backup quarterback Justin Worley kneeled out the final seconds of the clock. Phillips could look up in Neyland Stadium and see his final moments dripping away.

He'll leave UK after 23 years as a player, assistant and head coach. But he hopes he won't be far from the minds of his players.

"I wanted to tell our players the one thing I will do is come back and haunt them if they don't take care of business in the classroom," Phillips said. "I don't want people to say there isn't talent here or that team isn't tough, because they are. I will come back and haunt them if they don't carry themselves like Kentucky football players are supposed to."

Injury Report
Freshman quarterback Patrick Towles left the game before halftime and did not return after taking a hard hit while scrambling. He told the coaches he didn't feel comfortable returning to the game.

Quick Hits
--UK broke its 26-year losing streak against Tennessee last year, but the Wildcats still haven't won at Neyland Stadium since 1986. The span of 14 games is the Vols' longest home winning streak over any opponent.

--Interim coach Jim Chaney was the fifth coach for some Tennessee seniors. Philip Fulmer coached the Vols to a 5-7 record in 2008 before Lane Kiffin went 7-6 in his one year in Knoxville.

Derek Dooley went 15-21 over three years before being fired last week. He declined to coach the final game of the season, and Chaney became the interim coach against Kentucky.

"It'll be interesting to see in 20 years exactly what these young men are doing," Chaney said. "What did they learn in college, what happened in college, what transpired that made them tougher, made them learn to fight through adversity? They learned definitely about change."

--Senior wide receiver La'Rod King had a career-best 10 catches for 78 yards in his final game as a Wildcat ... Whitlow went 29-45 for 225 yards, setting new career highs for attempts, completions and yards. He also rushed for 31 yards ... Jonathan George's 45-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the longest run of his career ... Sophomore fullback D.J. Warren caught a one-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, his first career score. Warren is from nearby Alcoa, Tenn. ... Tennessee finished the year with 5,711 yards, the second most in school history. The Vols finished with 5,794 in 1997, Peyton Manning's senior season.


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