10. Kentucky Wildcats
Year: 2011 (Away)
Final score: Tennessee Volunteers lose 10-7
While Tennessee football’s worst loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores was one at a time when Vandy dominated them, their worst loss to the Kentucky Wildcats actually comes from a recent time, a period in which the Vols dominated both Vandy and UK.
The Vols’ 2005 loss to Vanderbilt ended a 22-game winning streak. But their loss to Kentucky ended their longest winning streak over any school in history, and it was the longest winning streak at the time in college football. As a result, it is naturally going to be the worst loss ever to Kentucky. Add in all the other things that happened afterward, and things only got worse.
To start off, remember how things played out. Derek Dooley was in his second year, but given all the attrition from Phillip Fulmer to Lane Kiffin, he was basically in his first year. Also, the Vols had the toughest schedule in history. Their three SEC West opponents, the LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide and Arkansas Razorbacks, were also three best teams in the country that year.
Things were bad enough. However, then the Vols lost Justin Hunter, their only weapon as a go-to receiver, for the year in their SEC opener against the Florida Gators. After that, they lost Tyler Bray, their quarterback in their second SEC game against the Georgia Bulldog. The result was a 3-5 start to the season even with winning all their out of conference games. They were eventually 4-6.
So with two games left to reach a bowl, Bray returned and helped the Vols pull out an overtime victory over Vanderbilt. But the Vols were so mentally drained in that game and from the season that they were not ready to play a bad Kentucky team on the road next week.
Joker Phillips put a receiver in at quarterback in that game and did just enough to build a 10-0 lead despite the Wildcats throwing six passes a game. Tennessee football, meanwhile, made mistake after mistake, including a goal-line fumble. Eventually, Bray was intercepted on a 4th and 17 late to secure UK a victory.
It was Kentucky’s first win in the series since 1984, and it cost the Vols a bowl game. On top of that, it put Dooley on the hot seat, which resulted in numerous staff members leaving, most notably Justin Wilcox, which forced Dooley to hire Sal Sunseri as defensive coordinator, which eventually resulted in the 5-7 2012 season that got him fired.