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Tennessee falls just short at Kentucky; so, what now?

Tennessee coach Butch Jones
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee’s level of frustration might have reached new heights Saturday night as Kentucky scored a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds for a 29-26 victory.

It was Kentucky’s second win over Tennessee in 33 tries, and it cast more doubt on the future of Vols coach Butch Jones. Has Jones laid his last brick in Knoxville?

Tennessee athletic director John Currie doesn’t want to fire Jones, sources have told me.

But Jones hasn’t given Currie reason to keep him. And Saturday’s loss to Kentucky didn’t help.

The Vols had a 4-0 advantage in turnovers, a 17-minute domination in time of possession, 160 more passing yards and 26 more plays.

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But that wasn’t enough to win in Lexington. I’d bet UT never has had a plus-four turnover margin against Kentucky and lost. After all, Kentucky has only six wins against the Vols since 1965.

Tennessee falls to 3-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC in Year Five under Jones. It’s clear that Jones’ solid rebuilding job at Tennessee has crumbled. Whether it’s fallen apart enough for Currie to make a change remains to be seen.

Maybe attendance for next Saturday’s Southern Miss-Tennessee game at Neyland Stadium will be a factor. Or maybe Currie already has decided Jones’ ship has sailed.

Many of the self-inflicted wounds that have bothered Tennessee this season haunted them again. An 80-yard touchdown run by Ty Chandler was wiped out by a holding penalty well behind the play. The same possession reached the Kentucky 1, but the Vols were guilty of an illegal procedure penalty three feet from the goal line – their third this season near the end zone – and settled for a field goal.

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Tennessee was unable to take full advantage of four lost fumbles by Kentucky. The Vols took over on UK’s 15, 41 and 49 and UT’s 44 after the turnovers. The result: three field goals.

“That’s the story of the game – nine points off four turnovers,” Jones said.

Kentucky took a 21-20 halftime lead behind Benny Snell Jr.’s 124 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He finished with 180 yards.

Kentucky’s offense was slowed in the second half by fumbles on its first two possessions. The Wildcats punted on their next two possessions.

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