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Final Grades: Kentucky Wildcats vs Tennessee Volunteers

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Jeremy Pruitt knocks off his second top-25 opponent in a dominant win

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Tennessee
The Vols came to play Saturday
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, it may be cold, rainy, and grey outside - but the future is bright on Rocky Top.

Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols knocked off the 11th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday and it wasn’t even close. Led by a swarming defense, the Vols came right out of the gate and smothered Kentucky from start to finish.

It’s the second win over a ranked opponent for Pruitt this season and with two games to go, the Vols need just one win to become bowl-eligible.

Let’s dive into another exciting edition of final grades.

Offense

This was one of the best - if not the best - performances of the year for the offensive side of the ball.

Tennessee was efficient, balanced, and threw the ball downfield. It’s amazing that Tyson Helton hasn’t used this formula more often. The Vols are clearly at their best when they don’t try and jam it up the middle every play.

They came out and threw the ball often - and deep - on first down, which helped neutralize Kentucky’s pass rush and opened up running lanes for Ty Chandler and co.

The Vols ran for over 200 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. Chandler and Tim Jordan each carried the ball at least 15 times, but the highlight of the game was Jordan Murphy’s 59-yard scamper on a reverse that took advantage of an aggressive Wildcat defense.

The passing game was on point as well. Jarrett Guarantano threw two touchdowns to zero interceptions while averaging 16.4 yards per completion. Big completions on first down was a major contributor to their offensive success.

But they weren’t so hot on third down (4 of 12) and the two fourth quarter fumbles could’ve changed the game if Kentucky had any semblance of a complete offense.

At the end of the day, it was a great performance against a very good defense. The Hail Mary before halftime was almost enough to give the unit a perfect grade, but the turnovers are what hurt them here.

Final Grade: 3.0 (B)

Defense

Where do I even begin?

This was one of the better defensive performances in recent history. The only one that even comes close was the second half against Florida in 2016. The difference between the two, however, is the fact that the Vols played lights-out defense for all four quarters against Kentucky.

The second quarter was a feat of pure dominance. Tennessee held the Wildcats to (-1) total yards of offense.

Yes, you read that right. (-1) yards of total offense throughout an entire quarter.

Darrell Taylor sacked Terry Wilson four times and the team recorded five as a whole. Shy Tuttle came through again, blocking a kick and blowing up plays at the line of scrimmage to deter Kentucky’s run game. Marquill Osborne intercepted two passes after coming in for an injured Bryce Thompson.

The Vols received contributions everywhere on defense and it showed. It’s almost impossible to beat a defensive mind like Pruitt when you have a one-dimensional offense such as Kentucky’s.

The defense allowed an average of 3.6 yards per play and prohibited Kentucky from reaching the end zone until late in the third quarter.

This was a major stepping stone for the defense and now it will need to carry over into the next two weeks.

Final Grade: 4.0 (A)

Special Teams

The unit was solid, not spectacular - but they didn’t have many chances outside of seven punts to strut their stuff.

Brent Cimaglia nailed his only attempt and all of his extra points. The return units held their own and didn’t allow any big plays to happen.

The cherry on top was Tuttle’s block on the Wildcats’ second attempt of the game. It was a gigantic play and a major momentum killer. Kentucky had scored a touchdown on the previous drive and the made field goal would’ve cut the Vols’ lead to 14.

It’s amazing what this team can do when all three phases click like this.

Final Grade: 4.0 (A)

Coaching

So this is what a competent staff looks like, eh?

Pruitt is working a small miracle on Rocky Top in 2018. This team is just one year removed from suffering through the worst year in program history, yet they now have two wins - two SEC wins - over ranked opponents.

The most impressive thing about these two wins is that they have been dominant performances from start to finish. The Vols haven’t required any good luck nor crazy plays to win. They’ve done so by out-coaching and out-playing their opponents.

All bias aside, Pruitt should seriously be considered for SEC Coach of the Year if Tennessee wins out and goes to a bowl game at 7-5.

This past week was the first step in that direction.

Final Grade: 4.0 (A)

Overall Grade: 3.75 (B+)

This is about as close to perfect as you’ll get playing a football game. If it weren’t for the two fourth quarter fumbles, then the Vols would’ve walked away from this game spotless.

Overall Grade For The Season: 2.47 (C)