For the first time in Butch Jones' tenure in Knoxville, Tennessee ran away with a meaningful SEC game, jumping out to a 30-3 lead before cruising to an 50-16 win over Kentucky Saturday afternoon in Knoxville. Josh Dobbs threw for 293 yards and ran for 53, and Jalen Hurd added his third 100-yard game of the season, leading the Tennessee offense to 511 yards and 43 points. Dobbs threw for three touchdowns, throwing two to Von Pearson, one to Jason Croom, and running for a fourth. The defense forced two turnovers, sacked the Kentucky quarterbacks five times--including two each by Curt Maggitt and true freshman Derek Barnett--and added a score in a dominant victory for the Vols.
The game felt a bit like the season-opener against Utah State, albeit with a fair bit more offense and a little less defense. In both cases, the Vols were faced with a key game against a beatable but dangerous opponent, and in both cases, after an iffy first series, Tennessee put together a touchdown drive to take the lead, used a forced turnover to push the lead to double-digits, and never looked back.
The Vols let Kentucky march 77 yards on the first possession, but a third down sack by Curt Maggitt forced a Wildcats field goal, and it was all Tennessee from there. The Vols scored the next 30 points in a row, opening with a five-play, 73 yard drive culminating in Von Pearson taking a short pass for 21 yards and a score. After an ankle injury forced Kentucky's Patrick Towles to the locker room, the Vols hit UK backup Reese Phillips as he was throwing, and Brian Randolph took the errant pass for 23 yards and a second touchdown.
Armed with a 14-3 lead, Tennessee slammed the gas pedal to the ground, scoring on each of their next three possessions--including a Dobbs run and Pearson's second touchdown--and holding Kentucky to -7 yards on the Wildcats' corresponding series. With four minutes remaining in the first half, the Vols led 30-3, and the rout was on.
Down 27 points, Towles reentered the game, and some sloppy play by the Tennessee defense allowed Kentucky to score on three straight possessions, but the Vols got a field goal on a two-minute drill to close the first half and Jason Croom took a short pass for 52 yards and a touchdown to open the second half, keeping the Wildcats' offensive push from making much of a dent in the Tennessee lead.
While Tennessee was never threatened in the second half, the win might've been a costly one, as offensive linemen Mack Crowder and Austin Sanders both went down with injuries late in the game, putting more pressure on an already painfully thin and inexperienced Tennessee line. On the other side of the ball, Brian Randolph committed a manifestly stupid targeting penalty, earning him a suspension for the first half of next week's game. The Vols need one more win to secure bowl eligibility, and next week they host a Missouri team that currently holds first place in the SEC East. Getting to 6-5 will not be an easy task, and it becomes more difficult with every player Tennessee loses.
Negatives aside, it's hard to be unhappy with the Tennessee performance this week. Their 33 first half points were the most in an SEC game in over 10 years, since Casey Clausen led the Vols to 41 first half points against Vanderbilt in 2003. And the 34-point margin was the Vols' best against an FBS team since a 52-14 win over Ole Miss back in 2010. Tennessee desperately needed a victory over a solid Kentucky team in order to take the next step towards bowl eligibility, and the Vols took that step with panache. All it takes is one more. Beat Missouri.