LEXINGTON, Ky. — Corey Miller finished his Tennessee football career in style.
The Volunteers' senior defensive end still wished it would have ended another way.
In its season finale, Tennessee rode three big plays in the first half and cruised to a 27-14 win over Kentucky inside a cold, fairly empty Commonwealth Stadium. Miller set the program's single-game sack record when a strip-sack of Wildcats quarterback Maxwell Smith late in the fourth quarter gave him 4.5 in his final game.
Tennessee legend Reggie White from Chattanooga held that record since 1983, when he had four sacks against The Citadel.
"I'm speechless about it, because you never think that something like that's going to happen, especially on the last game of your career," Miller said.
"I'm going to say the best way to go out was to be in a bowl game and have a couple more weeks with my guys," he added, "but it's not bad to go out that way, I guess."
That season-long goal of a bowl game was dashed in a last-second 14-10 loss to Vanderbilt a week earlier, and that defeat left Tennessee with little left to play for against the lowly Wildcats.
Still, the Vols came out sharp and took a 20-0 lead with three long touchdown plays.
"I knew we were ready to play," safety Brian Randolph said. "We knew this was going to be our last game. We had nothing to save up for. We might as well go out and give it our all, and that's what we did."
Josh Dobbs played his best game of the season in his fourth start. The freshman quarterback completed 14 of his 23 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns and added 66 yards rushing and a 40-yard scamper for a score.
The Vols overcame the absence of two starters at receiver. Freshman Marquez North (ankle) didn't make the trip, and Jason Croom, a redshirt freshman who had a 43-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, broke his collarbone on a 31-yard grab in the second quarter.
Johnathon Johnson and Devrin Young, Tennessee's two diminutive slot receivers, both made crucial catches on the third-quarter touchdown drive that pushed the Vols' lead back to 27-7.
"You hate when those two guys go down," Young said, "but we realized we were dealing with this type of situation all year, being minimized as far as depth at the wide receiver position. When they went down, we just had to move on. You can't marinate on something like that, and those guys are going to get healthy and they're going to be right for next year."
On Kentucky's ensuing possession, Tennessee stopped tailback Dyshawn Mobley inches short of the goal line on fourth-and-goal.
"You've always got to play for something," Vols linebacker A.J. Johnson said. "We got another chance to play football, and we wanted to send our seniors out with a good night's win. We came focused and ready to play."
Tennessee snapped a 12-game road losing streak that dated back to a 2010 win at Vanderbilt. A program that never has had an eight-loss season avoided losing to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the same season, which hasn't happened since 1964.
The Vols will finish their first season under coach Butch Jones 5-7, the program's fourth consecutive losing season. This one included an upset of a ranked South Carolina team and losses by 28 or more points to Oregon, Alabama, Missouri and Auburn. Tennessee will rue the wins it let slip away in the waning moments against Georgia and Vanderbilt.
"I want to continue to stay positive and move forward," Jones said, "but it's expected that we go to bowl games from here on out. That's our goal. We're going to have some time off and take advantage of the time we have moving forward, and we'll be back and right into our offseason strength and conditioning program on Monday."
The Vols will do that feeling good after a season-ending win.
"It gives everybody and the young guys confidence," senior right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "It gives them confidence they can do it. It gives them confidence they can get a road win, because we hadn't gotten one since my freshman year.
"This is a big thing. It's a big step for Coach Jones and it's a big step for this program."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...