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ERASE THIS GAME: TENNESSEE-KENTUCKY, 2011

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THE MOMENT WHEN DEREK DOOLEY REALIZED HE SHOULD HAVE GONE TO DENTAL SCHOOL

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Erase This Game is a new offseason feature in which we, merciless jerks that we are, find the dumbest football game ever played by one school. We continue with November 26th, 2011, the day that the Tennessee Volunteers traveled to Lexington to play the Kentucky Wildcats in what would be the dumbest, most pointless game ever played between the two. Until the next year, we think. Don't start looking too hard. There are an unreasonable number of bodies in this mineshaft.

I. 

The first completion of Matt Roark's college career, and the longest of the game thanks to the other three receptions going for various sums equaling zero.  Matt Roark was a wide receiver, but with Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith sidelined with injuries Roark was asked to start and asked to run a super-simple veer. Matt Roark's performance here is kind of perfect in its own way. He came in, rushed for 124 yards, and won the game. He's undefeated as a starting quarterback for life in the SEC, because even wins over a Derek Dooley team that went 1-7 in the SEC and lost to Kentucky for the first time since 1981 count.

The quarterback for that 1981 win, by the way? The magnificent Randy Jenkins, he of the 2 TD/20 INT season in 1982. That's the kind of greatness Matt Roark is joining here. Derek Dooley didn't steal money at Tennessee, because that would imply he did anything on purpose, ever.

II. 

Tennessee's first trip across the 50. Look, I get what they were going for here, and, in a void, it's honestly not that dumb. In their SEC games prior to this, the Volunteers had scored as follows: 23, 12, 7, 6, 3, 7, 27. Both of the 20+ scores came against teams with a new head coach; the former was Will Muschamp's Florida team, and the latter was James Franklin and Vanderbilt.

Touchdowns are like delicious, perfectly made sushi. You'd like to have as much of it as you can, but sometimes that isn't realistic given your circumstances. So you have to settle for the ramen cup of football, the field goal. And you can live on that, for a time at least. It's certainly better than going hungry. 2011 Tennessee couldn't afford sushi, or likely even identify where the nearest sushi restaurant was; accordingly, they went to Costco and bought a palate of ramen cups.

On the very next drive, they tried to sell those ramen cups for sushi money.

III. 

Tennessee's second trip across the 50. Tyler Bray really did have the greatest arm ever, and not just in the "170 pound, 6' 6" dude who looks like a shooting guard from Bulgaria" way. His entire life at Tennessee was really just "My Side of the Mountain," but with a quarterback cast in the role of the despondent, desperate urban child. Maybe it's better to remember Tyler Bray that way, if we can: that he was left feral in Knoxville after a desolate, cold life growing up in the best boarding schools of the Northeast; that he discovered, while trying to knock pigeons off of the roof of the O'Charley's for food, an arm capable of putting pure electricity into the simplest toss; that he then simply walked on to the football team and ate their food until, like the wolves of the pack, they adopted him as their own. It also helps to assume that like wolves, the Tennessee coaching staff could not speak Tyler Bray's language, and that they communicated strictly through urine signals and carefully timed bites. It would explain so much about everything.

Danny Trevathan was pretty great, and deserved none of this. (Derek Dooley is not a wolf in this story, but instead an aggrieved squirrel who refuses to move out of the hollowed-out tree Bray calls home for three years.)

IV.

IV. "Team rush, fumbled" is such a delightful bit of box score bullshittery. It is the passive voice of play by play, assigning blame to no one. The team rushed. There was a fumble. The fumble was recovered by Kentucky. Why should the details matter? When someone lobs a grenade into your house, you don't stop and ask for names and backstory. You just get blown up.

Sure, technically Tennessee wasted a trip inside the Kentucky ten late in the game by calling a play with a wide receiver lined up in the shotgun. And technically the snap, which was a little high and a little wide, was the sort that your quarterback probably handles easily. And technically this was all just so goddamn stupid.

But those are DETAILS. "Team rush, fumbled." That's all you need to know.

V. 

This keeps alive the only touchdown drive of the day for Kentucky. Tennessee gave up 3rd and 12 to a quarterback who attempted six passes the entire game, who was a converted wide receiver and who had no hope of completing a pass longer than 12 yards. He'd already done that. He spent that card early in the game, and ate that entire box of delicious candy before the movie'd really ever gotten underway. Tennessee still gave up a first down when everyone on the entire defense could have stood at the sticks and dared Roark to make something, anything like a pass downfield. Not everything in life is worth remembering, and most experience is empty space. Just like the 2011 Tennessee Volunteers. Just like them.

VI.

Every program has its own signature style of dumb. Iowa punts from the opponent's thirty yard line, USC doesn't realize that it's getting hit with the same exact punch over and over, Notre Dame always puts its trust in the wrong quarterback at that particular point in time. Tennessee's dumb specialty is looking like garbage on offense for most of the game, waiting until things are juuuuuust about out of reach, and then remembering it has that touchdown it packed for lunch.

And then losing anyways. This is the drive that makes all the other three and outs and turnovers so maddening. It's not that they CAN'T do offense. You just usually fuck it up.

VII.

But then their last offensive series ends with this sequence. Remember calling Tyler Bray the stranded child alone in the wilderness? This is the scene where Derek Dooley, the squirrel, watches him set himself on fire with an old camp stove and a leaky bottle of propane he finds in an abandoned campsite. Bray's on fire, stumbling around the camp swatting himself and yelling for someone, anyone, to help him, to put out the flames. Derek Dooley senses something vaguely wrong, but can't do much about it because he's a squirrel with only a passing understanding of fire, harm, or relations with other animals or objects. Is it like orange, stingy rain? Does it work like that? That weird bear seems like he's in trouble, and I never liked him anyway. I'll just stay up here and eat nuts and chitter a while. That seems like the right thing to do.