Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer was relieved.
With an appearance in the Southeastern Conference title game already secured, the No. 15 Volunteers rallied with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter Saturday to avoid an embarrassing loss with a 37-31 victory over Kentucky.
A field goal would have given Tennessee the lead in the final minute, but the Volunteers didn’t want to risk it after Kentucky had blocked two kicks. Gerald Riggs finally put Tennessee ahead to stay with a 12-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds remaining.
“Really relieved,” Fulmer said. “I love each and every one of these guys, but they are making an old man out of me and the rest of the staff.”
Kentucky, 2-9 and 1-7 in the conference, lost its 20th in a row to Tennessee. But the Volunteers (9-2, 7-1) trailed, 31-22, in the fourth quarter against one of the worst offenses in the country. The Wildcats’ offensive coordinator, Ron Hudson, resigned Monday.
The Volunteers were looking to build momentum entering their rematch with No. 3 Auburn in the SEC title game. Clearly, the defense will have to play better Saturday in Atlanta. The defense also struggled in a 38-33 victory at Vanderbilt on Nov. 20.