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Barnett leaves legacy with career sack record

Jimmy Trodglen/Tnsports360.com

By Jimmy Trodglen

Editor

Nashville Tenn. – It wasn’t really a matter of if it would happen, but when it would happen.

And when the moment finally arrived, the reaction was epic.

Vols defensive end Derek Barnett entered the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl tied with legendary Vol Reggie White for career sacks.

Barnett was a disruptive force from the moment the Vols defense took the field at Nissan Stadium, placing Cornhuskers quarterback Ryker Fyfe firmly in the crosshairs.

Barnett had six tackles, a pair of pass breakups and four quarterback hurries. And even when he didn’t figure into the stat line, Barnett still disrupted the flow of the Cornhuskers’ offense as the Vols rolled to a 38-24 win.

With Barnett tied with White for career sacks at 33, time was evaporating from the game clock.

But it was only a matter of time before the sack record belonged to Barnett.

With less than four minutes remaining, Barnett slipped around offensive tackle Cole Conrad and dropped Fyfe for the sack, a record-breaking 34th sack in only three years.

“I can’t really describe it,” Barnett said. “I just know it happened really fast. It was a blink and then he was on the ground.”

Barnett’s sack was followed by a celebration on the field and Tennessee’s sideline that prompted Vols coach Butch Jones to call a timeout to avoid a 15-yard penalty.

“That shows you the respect that our football team has for Derek Barnett,” Jones said. “And the excitement and unselfishness of our football team; that they wanted to go celebrate with him because they knew it was a milestone.”

No issues with stopping run

The Vols’ inability to stop the run – allowing over 400 rushing yards against Missouri and Kentucky, followed by a secondary that was torched by Vanderbilt – contributed to their SEC East title hope collapse.

The Cornhuskers were limited offensively with versatile quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. sidelined with an injury.  Running back Terrell Newby ran the ball nine times for 15 yards in the first half and didn’t return after halftime.

Still, for a defense that was exploited repeatedly during the season, the Vols shut down the Cornhuskers.

The Cornhuskers were limited to 61 rushing yards on 28 carries, with 42 of those yards coming on one carry.

Fyfe threw for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the Vols defense sacked the Cornhuskers QB four times. The Vols were relentless in putting pressure on Fyfe. They had seven quarterback hurries and broke up five passes.

“It was very rewarding coming off a loss that we didn’t play good in at all,” said Barnett, referring to the Vols’ season-finale loss to Vanderbilt. “And our coaches have been stressing we have to stop the run and we did that the majority (of the game).

“We gave up a few plays, but we played great defensively and I’m very proud.”

The Cornhuskers punted seven times and were 5-of-16 on third-down conversions.  Nebraska’s first five possessions ended with punts and they had a total of 33 yards before striking on a three play, 80-yard scoring drive late in the second quarter.

Staying or going

Barnett, a junior out of Brentwood Academy, is expected to be among a handful of Vols underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft, but Barnett said no decision has been made about his future.

“I’m going to have to sit down with my mom and talk it over,” Barnett said. “I have no final say in the decision yet. But I’ll let you know with my family, we’ll decide what’s best for us.”

Jimmy Trodglen, editor, Twitter@Tnsports360