LEXINGTON, Ky. - It was advertised as the worst Tennessee team in decades, and for much of the game, the Volunteers played the part.
It still didn't matter.
Coach Phil Fulmer's embattled club came in and showed Saturday that even a bad Tennessee team isn't quite bad enough to lose to Kentucky.
Kentucky blew several opportunities to seize early control of the game and then watched Tennessee gradually pull away for a 27-8 win.
The victory extended the Vols' win streak over Kentucky to 21 games - the second-longest in the nation behind Notre Dame's 42-game streak over Navy - and sent home a Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 61,924 fans mostly disappointed.
The loss wrapped up a disappointing 3-8 season for Coach Rich Brooks and the Wildcats, who were hoping to not only end Tennessee's stranglehold in the series but also gain momentum heading into the off-season.
"The game obviously didn't go the way we wanted to," Brooks said. "I'm extremely disappointed that this season hasn't gone better, and particularly with this game."
It wasn't as if the Wildcats didn't have chances.
The Vols, who were eliminated from bowl contention by Vanderbilt last week, showed many of the reasons why they've struggled through an uncharacteristic losing campaign (5-6, 3-5 SEC). They made costly penalties, as two long touchdowns were called back on holding penalties.
They turned it over, as quarterback Erik Ainge followed up punt returner Jonathan Hefney's fumble by coughing it up at the Tennessee 30 on a sack by B. Jay Parsons.
They gave up a safety when they tried to pass out of their own end zone with a 21-point lead midway through the fourth quarter only to be called for intentional grounding.
None of it mattered. Tennessee was still able to do enough to end its season without the embarrassment of back-to-back losses to Vandy and Kentucky and avoid the basement in the SEC East.
"It was good to finish up the season with a win," Fulmer said. "It sounds weird coming out of my mouth. We usually end up coming in here and fighting for a win and then have a couple of weeks to prepare for a bowl game."
Quarterback Curtis Pulley, a true freshman, took the bulk of the snaps after Kentucky lost starting quarterback Andre Woodson to a shoulder injury in the second quarter.
Kentucky linebacker Ben McGrath appeared to have a read on an interception on one of the Vols' plays, but the ball skipped off his fingertips and into the arms of Chris Hannon for a 32-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-3 with 6:14 left in the first half.
Kentucky appeared ready to make it 14-10 after Pulley picked up a yard on a fourth-and-inches sneak from the Tennessee 2. But tight end Jacob Tamme was whistled for a false start, and Kentucky was forced to settle for another field goal.
Tennessee padded its lead to 17-6 by halftime, but Kentucky came out and knocked on the door yet again on its first drive of the second half. The Cats made it to the Volunteers' 9 on an 8-yard screen pass from Pulley to Alexis Bwenge. Pulley lost a fumble on the next play, however, and Tennessee's Kevin Simon fell on it at the 10.
The clincher came when Justin Harrell deflected a pass that bounced off of Pulley's helmet and into Harrell's arms at the Kentucky 7. Harrell barreled into the end zone to push the lead to 27-6 with 1:19 left in the third.
Pulley finished 22-of-32 passing for 149 yards. He fumbled three times, losing one, and threw three interceptions. Ainge went 17-for-25 for 221 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.
"We tried to get (Ainge) going early with a couple of short passes," Fulmer said. "We have 70 or 75 plays and 68 of them will be good, but the bad ones are the ones that beat you."
And for as many bad plays as Tennessee made Saturday, they reminded everybody that a bad Tennessee is still better than a bad Kentucky.