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Five key takeaways from Tennessee’s win over Kentucky

What stood out.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Bring back the beer barrel, even if it just sits in Tennessee’s locker room every year. In what probably seemed like a frustrating game to many, this was a win that Tennessee desperately needed, and one that proved that they are capable of winning on the road in a tougher environment. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but there are some things to be excited about. Here are five key takeaways from Tennessee’s win over Kentucky.

Dylan Sampson Is Going to Special (Jaylen Wright is Special)

While Jaylen Wright is the clear cut lead back for the Tennessee Volunteers, it would be a crime and disservice to not give Dylan Sampson major credit in helping Tennessee secure a win on Saturday night. Aside from averaging 4.5 yards per carry, the sophomore running back continuously made plays in the biggest moments — whether it was having a clutch run after the catch on a 3rd and long, or scoring the touchdown to essentially put the game out of reach — Dylan Sampson’s fingerprints were all over this victory. In addition to Sampson’s performance, we also have to give Jaylen Wright a shoutout, as he just continues to show the country why he’s such a special talent — 120 yards on 11 carries, including the 52-yard touchdown run.

They’re Capable of Winning on the Road

Forget about last year’s team. That team is gone. While they’ve taken care of business at home, the 2023-2024 Tennessee Volunteers had simply not shown up for road games. Whether it’s just getting stomped in the Swamp, or getting outscored 27-0 in the second half in Tuscaloosa — Tennessee has been bad on the road. This win, at the very least, proves that they are capable of winning games in hostile environments. With a big road game coming up against Missouri in a couple of weeks, this felt like a major “prove it game” for Heupel’s squad.

Let Joe Cook?

I’ll be the first to admit it - I’ve been very critical of this team’s passing attack for the two thirds of the season. But these last two weeks have been different. Joe Milton has looked, dare I say it.....good? Following the Texas A&M game, if you told me that Joe Milton would go out and complete 86% of his passes, use his legs to extend plays, accurately throw on the run, limit turnovers, AND win on the road in one game, I would have called you a moron. A hopeful moron, but a moron nonetheless. But that’s exactly what he did. There were some plays that Joe made that you can’t help but say “holy s***, what a dot” — specifically the ones like this where he’s on the move and throwing against his body. He is what he is at this point, and that’s fine, but the flashes of brilliance are undeniable and they inspire confidence moving forward.

They Can Win Games When The Defense Doesn’t Play Well

Many, if not all, of Tennessee’s wins this year have been fueled by their defensive performance. Whether it be a relentless pass rush, wreaking havoc in the backfield against the run, or forcing multiple turnovers, Tennessee’s defense has played a critical role in all of their wins. Except for Saturday night. Tennessee’s defense allowed 24 first downs, over 440 yards of total offense and forced zero turnovers. And they won. The defense isn’t going to be lights out every game, and it was nice to see the offense actually carry some weight for once this season.

Too Many Penalties (Part 7)

Saturday night marked the seventh (SEVENTH?!) game that Tennessee was the more penalized team. They are averaging over 8 penalties per game, and I don’t care what some of you might say about spotty officiating or so many “missed holds” — this is a sloppy football team. They are constantly shooting themselves in the foot on the plus side of the field and it’s costing them points. I say this almost every week but they need to get in cleaned up and they need to get it cleaned up quickly. It’s killing their own drives. It’s extending the drives of their opponents. It’s what bad teams do. It’s infuriating to watch.