David Climer: Vols keep finding new ways to lose

KNOXVILLE — When officials initially ruled that Vanderbiltquarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels had been stopped short of the first-down marker inside the final minute, the bulk of Neyland Stadium erupted in celebration.

Not so fast. This is Tennessee football, where defeat sometimes is yanked from the jaws of victory.

"I told everybody, 'Calm down. It might not be over yet,' " Vols offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said.

Such is the current state of Vol Ball. The combination of bad karma and mediocre football doesn't leave much margin for error.

You know what happened. After video review, officials determined that Carta-Samuels indeed had reached the first-down marker. Three plays later, Vanderbilt scored the winning touchdown with 16 seconds remaining, securing a 14-10 victory, the Commodores' second in a row over the Vols.

As if that weren't enough, Vanderbilt's win also doomed UT to its fourth straight losing season and eliminated the Vols from bowl consideration.

UT has not been to a bowl since Derek Dooley took the Vols to the Music City Bowl in 2010, his first season. The last time the Vols were in this kind of postseason drought was 1975-78 — Bill Battle's last two seasons and John Majors' first two.

Again this year, Vanderbilt is going bowling while the Vols are not.

So much for Butch Jones' vow to reclaim college football superiority in the state. Like everything else dealing with the Vols these days, that is on hold.

UT victories over Vanderbilt used to be as predictable as a Taylor Swift break-up song. From 1983-2004, the Vols won 22 straight times over the Commodores. Even Dooley beat Vanderbilt — twice. Those were two of Dooley's five SEC victories in his three-year tenure.

Those days are long gone. Despite four turnovers, Vanderbilt made enough plays in the clutch to beat UT.

The decisive drive was a case in point. Jonathan Krause, who had one reception through the first three quarters, had catches of 18 and 17 yards on that drive. Jordan Matthews made a leaping catch over UT cornerback Cameron Sutton for 25 yards.

And the winning touchdown came on a fake jump-pass by Patton Robinette, who scored easily from 5 yards out against a shell shocked UT defense.

We should have seen it coming. From the moment officials reversed their call on Carta-Samuels' quarterback sneak, you could tell the Vols were toast.

"We went from the highest high to the lowest low," UT senior nose tackle Daniel Hood said.

A program that once found ways to win now finds new and different ways to lose. Members of this senior class remember the events of 2010, when what first appeared to be wins over LSU and North Carolina disappeared into thin air, not to mention a near-miss against Georgia this season.

Consider Hood's career. He was recruited by Lane Kiffin, redshirted as a freshman, and will leave UT playing for his third head coach. He's been through a lot.

"That's kind of been the burden of our senior class," Hood said. "You had Kiffin leaving. You had LSU. You had North Carolina. You had Georgia this year. Losing to Kentucky two years ago. That's kind of been our burden to carry. …

"We'll carry that burden so in the future they can win championships."

It must be noted, however, that UT's program is far, far away from competing for championships. As difficult as this season has been, it may not get better next year. The Vols lose the core of both their offensive and defensive lines. Yes, Jones is recruiting well, but those players need time to gain experience.

"We have to keep building this program," he said.

Jones made a strategic error early in the fourth quarter on Saturday night. Leading 10-7, the Vols were in position for a 39-yard Michael Palardy field goal, but Jones instead called for a fake. Vanderbilt saw it coming. Palardy's pass toward holder Tyler Drummer was horribly underthrown, and Paris Head was in perfect position to intercept it.

Those three points would have come in handy in the closing seconds because UT would have needed only a field goal instead of a touchdown to pull out the win.

Now the two teams head their separate ways. Vanderbilt closes the regular season with a home game against Wake Forest, followed by a bowl trip. UT goes to Kentucky next Saturday night.

"We get one more chance to come together as a team," Jones said.

After that, the Vols will be home for the holidays.



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