8. 2011: Kentucky beats Tennessee 10-7
Yes, this one is ingrained in the memories of Tennessee football fans. One of the worst losses of the century, it set in motion numerous things that would ultimately result in Derek Dooley’s firing, which we’ll get to in a minute.
But let’s go back. So the Vols are 6-7 Dooley’s first year and two poor late-game coaching tactics away from 8-5. No matter. They are rebuilding after the mess he inherited. It was so bad that fans were willing to give him two first years.
This was Dooley’s second year. And in trying to rebuild, his quarterback in Tyler Bray went down, and so did his top receiver in Justin Hunter. The result was a disastrous season that had the Vols down to 3-5 and then 4-6. But then Bray was able to return.
Bray’s return allowed the Vols to get a huge overtime win over the up-and-coming Vanderbilt Commodores. So at 5-6, Dooley would have a chance to reach another bowl game despite a depleted roster, key injuries and the toughest schedule in history. All his team had to do was beat the 4-7 Kentucky Wildcats, a team they had beaten for 26 years straight. At the time, it was the longest winning streak in college football.
To make matters easier, Joker Phillips, a coach on the hot seat, inserted a wide receiver in at quarterback out of desperation. This should have been easy for the Vols. But it wasn’t.
Kentucky scored a touchdown and a field goal. The Vols made a confluence of brutal offensive mistakes, including a fumble on the UK one-yard line. The terrible offensive play was highly indicative of Bray’s lack of leadership at the time, and Dooley’s team loss 10-7. No bowl, the streak was over, and the fans were angry.
All of this makes for a terrible upset loss by Tennessee football. This also resulted in Dave Hart not renewing staff contracts, which is why the Vols lost seven staff members that offseason and why Dooley had to find a new defensive coordinator. And with not enough support to find the right guy, he settled on Sal Sunseri, who became a disaster, resulting in another 5-7 season in 2012 and Dooley’s firing. All of that made this a terrible upset loss altogether, and it’s why it makes the list.