Things started bad, and then they stayed bad most of the first half.
But Tennessee came alive in the second half and defeated Kentucky 17-13.
Kentucky took the opening drive 75 yards in 10 minutes and 18 seconds for a touchdown. Tennessee followed that with a 3-and-out, and then Paxton Brooks dropped his snap and his punt was blocked.
Kentucky took the next drive 24 yards in two plays in 48 seconds for another touchdown. Darel Middleton blocked the extra point, but the Wildcats had a two-score lead mid-way through the first quarter.
All the sudden, Tennessee’s sideline looked a lot bluer than Kentucky’s.
After picking up 3 total yards on their first two drives, the Vols finally got on the board with a 26-yard Brent Cimaglia field goal.
On Kentucky’s next drive, WR-playing-QB Lynn Bowden, Jr. showed why he’s a WR playing QB as he under threw his tight end and stalled what looked like another scoring drive for the Wildcats with an interception. Nigel Warrior snagged the underthrown ball for his team-leading fourth interception on the season and appeared to return it for a touchdown…
But unfortunately, he stepped out of bounds at the 45-yard line, so Tennessee’s touchdown was wiped off the board.
Here’s where things got interesting: No, I’m kidding. The Vols went three-and-out again.
The Wildcats absolutely dominated the first half of the game running the ball. It looked like Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran added some different read-option elements to their ground game and had the Vols’ defense a bit on its heels.
Kentucky had a 2:1 advantage in time of possession as 31 of their first 34 plays were runs. Every one of their first 12 first downs came on running plays.
But Jeremy Pruitt sent Jarrett Guarantano out for the second half, and the redshirt junior promptly led Tennessee on two-straight touchdown-scoring drives.
The Tennessee defense tightened the screws on Bowden, Jr., and the one-dimensional Kentucky offense in the second half, too. The Vols forced a 3-and-out on the first drive and a turnover on downs on the Wildcats’ next two offensive series. The Vols played with seven and eight men in the box with just a single safety over the top to try and slow down the Wildcats’ ground attack.
For the game, Kentucky had six drives that last seven plays or more, while Tennessee just had two.
The Wildcats were nearing the endzone on their last drive, one that lasted 12 plays, and had a fourth-and-goal at the Tennessee 2-yard line. Daniel Bituli made his 19th (or 16th – I heard two different numbers, and I’m not sure which is right) tackle of the night and stopped Bowden, Jr., giving Tennessee the ball back with the lead and a minute and change left on the clock.
Jarrett Guarantano handed the ball off twice, and then scrambled for a first down to clinch the game.
He finished the game 7-8 for 115 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with six carries for 30 yards.
Marquez Callaway led the team in receiving with four catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
With the victory, Tennessee moves to 5-5 on the year and now sits just ONE WIN AWAY from bowl eligibility.