Nov. 19, 1949
The first time these two teams ever faced off ranked was the beginning of Robert Neyland’s final elite run with Tennessee football and also the emergence of Bear Bryant. In four years as a head coach and three with UK, Bryant hadn’t yet had a top five finish.
On the other side, though, Neyland was coming off back-to-back .500 seasons and entering his fourth year in his final stint. The conventional wisdom was that the game changed while Neyland was away during World War II, the single-wing was now outdated, and he hadn’t caught up.
However, Neyland had a collection of young, rising superstars in Ted Daffer, Bud Sherrod, Hank Lauricella and Bill Pearman to keep his system afloat. This was the first taste of what they would become in 1950 and 1951, and although they lost to the Duke Blue Devils and Georgia Tech while tying the Alabama Crimson Tide, they won everywhere else.
UT came into this game 5-2-1 with their best win at the No. 13 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. Kentucky, however, was 8-1 and No. 11 in the AP Poll. A win in this game would clinch Bryant the SEC Championship. They had truly emerged as an elite program, and Bryant became the fastest rising star in the sport.
Well, in Lexington, Neyland got the better of Bryant, as Tennessee football pulled off a 6-0 upset. That was enough to get the Vols up to No. 18, and a win against Vanderbilt the next week got them to finish the year No. 17. This proved as costly for UK as the 1950 game, and it was at Kentucky, so the upset was even bigger.