Despite Tennessee turning four red-zone trips into field goals instead of touchdowns, Joe Milton and the Vols’ offense went for 481 total yards, and the defense kept up the SEC’s second-leading rusher in Ray Davis in check as UT held off UK 33-27 to snap TN’s four-game true-road game losing streak.
After Tennessee’s defense forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game, it took the Vols just four plays to go 70 yards for a TD. Milton was 2-2 on the drive, picked up a first down with his legs, and then Jaylen Wright ran through four tackles like he was the Greased-Up Deaf Guy from Family guy en route to a 52-yard touchdown run.
On UK’s second drive, UT forced UK into a fourth-down situation, and Mark Stoops tried the QB sneak on third down and Ray Davis up the middle on fourth down. Tyler Baron was there to make both stops, and the Vols got the ball at their own 34-yard line.
Tennessee picked up its first penalty on a holding call as Joe Milton was scrambling to pick up the third-and-four opportunity. The Vols have taken a shotgun to their foot this season with the penalties —- prior to the game, they ranked 120th in flags tossed per-game at 7.7.
So instead of the first down, the Vols faced a third-and 14. UT tried a shovel pass — one that worked well the first time Heupel tried it this season but teams are looking for it now and negating its effectiveness. The drive ended with a Charles Campbell 44-yard field goal. Once again, UT left the red zone with three points instead of seven. Prior to tonight’s game, Tennessee had converted just 18 out of 33 red-zone trips into TDs. Field goals do not consistently win games in this league. But I’m taking this one anyway I can get it.
UK’s Devin Leary hit a 22-yard pass on the first play of UK’s next drive, but the Cats gave 10 yards back on two-straight penalties. Despite the first-and-20, Kentucky picked up the first down on two chunk plays of 10 and 16 yards. UT picked up another penalty on an offsides call to give the Cats the ball on the 32 on second-and-five. Leary hit another 17-yard pass, putting UK in the red zone. Ray Davis picked up a yard on first down, and the first quarter ended with UT up 10-0 and UK threatening at the Vols’ 11-yard line. UK ended up with three points on the drive.
The Vols took over at their own 25, and Milton uncorked a bomb to Keyton where it looked like the DB held Keyton’s arm, but UT didn’t get the call. Jaylen Wright busted off two-straight runs of 10-plus yards before the staff subbed in Sampson who broke off his own nine-yard run.
Tennessee ended up in third-and-nine spot, and Cooper Mays picked up another false start penalty. What looked like a promising drive was snuffed out by a one-yard Sampson rush and Mays’ penalty, but Tennessee again got three points off the leg of Campbell. This time, he was good from 49 yards. 13-3, Vols with 11:13 left in the second quarter. The Vols had four penalties for -25 yards barely one quarter into the game.
Kentucky immediately hit a 32-yard pass to kick off its drive, and picked up 10 more on another pass to JuTahn McClain. Tennessee forced UK into a third-and-nine, but Leary hit Dane Key for a 17-yard first down. Kentucky scored on the next play on a 11-yard pass to Barion Brown. UK drove 75 yards on seven plays, and UK converted its red zone attempt into a touchdown and cut the Vols’ lead to 13-10.
UT started its next drive off with four straight runs — the first was Milton on a keeper for 19 yards — and then Milton hit sophomore Chas Nimrod on a 39-yard TD pass down the near sideline for Nimrod’s first touchdown catch of his Tennessee career.
With the score, the Vols upped their lead to 20-10 with 6:16 left in the half.
After UK got the ball back, they used eight plays to get into Tennessee’s red zone. Davis rushed for eight yards and then scored on a seven-yard run on the next play. The scoring drive went 10 plays, 75 yards and left 1:46 on the clock as Heupel kept his timeouts in his pockets as UK was driving its way down the field for the score.
UT made its way into UK’s territory with about 17 second left on the clock before Milton rolled to his right and threw a 25-yard dart to White across his body down the middle of the field. Unfortunately, White went down with nine seconds on the clock, but the clock operator let it run down to seven and the refs didn’t change it. We could smell the home cookin’ from all the way down I-75.
TN ended up with its third FG of the half, and went into the locker room up by a one-score game at 23-17.
Joe Milton’s first-half stats: 10-12, 112 yards, one TD and no picks. And Nimrod’s first career touchdown catch.
UT punted on its first drive of the second half as the offense ran three plays but got stuffed on third-and-short, Milton sneak play.
The Wildcats came out firing — with Davis going for six yards up the middle and then two Leary passes for 14 and nine yards to get into Vols’ territory. On first down, Baron came around the far side corner, collapsed the pocket and Omarr Norman-Lott picked up UT’s first sack of the game. An incompletion later, UK was looking at third-and-21. Kentucky ended up giving up 15 yards on third down, but Stoops went for it and Tamarion McDonald broke up what would have been a first-down pass. That was the second turnover on downs for Kentucky.
Once again, a penalty got the Vols’ drive started off on the wrong foot when Jeremiah Crawford got called for a hold on the first play of the drive. But Milton hit Dont’e Thornton for a 47-yard gain as Milton scrambled around until he found Thornton open in the middle of the field. Again, UT was in the red zone and again, it squandered a chance for a TD with two negative plays inside the 10-yard line. Milton got dropped for a five-yard loss on a designed run and then got sacked for minus-four yards.
Campbell doinked the 35-yard attempt off the right upright but somehow the ball managed to make it through the uprights to make it a two-score game at 26-17 Vols.
The Vols picked up two-straight penalties when the Wildcats got the ball back, as Gabe Jeudy-Lally got called for being offsides and Elijah Herring got called for a delay of game penalty for clapping. The refs are saying he’s trying to simulate the offense’s clap to snap the ball.
Leary hit Dane Key for a seven-yard TD on third-and-three, making it again a one-score game at 26-24 Tennessee.
At this point in the game, the Vols had been called for seven penalties for minus-45 yards, while UK’s been tagged for just two calls and minus-10 yards.
Tennessee’s last drive of the third quarter resulted in a Milton sack, and Kentucky hit two-straight plays for 31 yard combined yards. Then Leary connected with a 15-yard pass to get the Cats inside UT’s 30-yard line. Pearce knocked down a screen pass on second-and-11, and then Leary missed on the third-down pass on the near sideline.
UK’s Alex Raynor missed a 53-yard field goal, but Aaron Beasley got called for a personal foul, backing the offense up from the 35 to the 20-yard line.
When the Vols got the ball back, Heupel cranked up the tempo. Sampson ran for a one-yard gain, then Milton hit Thornton with a 15-yard strike on second-and-24. Sampson picked up a third-and-three for a first down. Eventually, UT faced third-and-ten, and Milton hit Sampson for a 17-yard check-down catch. On the next play, Sampson ran through two or three would-be UK tacklers on his way to a 12-yard touchdown run.
Overall, Sampson was the workhouse of the drive, with 45 total yards and the TD that made the game a two-score affair, again at 33-24 Vols.
Tennessee picked up its ninth penalty of the game early in UK’s drive, but once the Cats made it into the red zone, Kentucky picked up its own false start to make it third-and-10. The Wildcats completed an eight-yard pass but elected for the field goal to make it 33-27 with 4:24 left in the game.
When the Vols got the ball back, despite Jaylen Wright’s 120-plus yards, Dylan Sampson was in the game. He started the drive with a five-yard run, and then he somehow snaked his way on a swing pass for six yards and a first down.
Dylan Sampson is Alvin Kamara, every Vol fan recognizes this tackle breaking pic.twitter.com/HGateHJ20P— gmannVOLS (@gmannVOLS) October 29, 2023
The next play, Sampson busted off a 24-yard run and got brought down by a horse-collar tackle that didn’t get called.
On an option play, Milton kept it and picked up 10 yards for the first down on third-and-seven. That first down basically sealed the game, since Stoops only had one timeout remaining and the game clock at 1:49. Stoops called his last time out, but the Vols were looking at a second-and-11 and continued to run the ball and the clock.
Heupel took a timeout with 58 second left and faced third-and-nine. Milton rushed up the middle for no gain, and a UK player went down with an injury — since Kentucky had no timeouts left, the 10-second runoff rule was in play, and that left just 34 seconds on the game clock, leaving the ball in UT’s possession for the win.
Joe Milton hit 17 of his 20 passes for 227 yards and the one TD, while averaging 11.7 yards per-attempt. The rushing attack combined for 254 yards on 47 carries. Wright had 11 carries for 120 yards and a score, while Sampson had 17 carries for 76 yards and one TD with four catches for 39 yards. Overall, Tennessee had 481 yards of offense in the game.
Tonight was the first time all season Tennessee played Thornton at the outside receiver spot, as prior to tonight’s game, every snap he’d played had come in the slot position. He had three catches for 63 yards. Seems like maybe he’ starting to pick things up and with his size and speed, he’s an ideal receiver to put on the outside.
Tennessee’s defense didn’t rack up the sacks that we’ve gotten used to, but boy did they bottle up Ray Davis. He had just 42 yards on 16 carries. Ray Davis? More like Ray Charles tonight.
UT gets UCONN at home for homecoming next week, before traveling to Missouri to play the currently SEC East’s second-ranked Tigers on November 11th.