Saturday, for the 116th time, Tennessee football faced off against Kentucky in a matchup that is both teams’ most played series. Taking place during a beautiful cool day in Neyland Stadium, the Vols were embarrassedly defeated by the Wildcats by a score of 34-7, and it was the first time since 1984 that the Big Blue won in Knoxville.
Tennessee won the toss and deferred to the second, giving Kentucky the ball to start the game. Neither team scored on their opening drive. A tackle for a loss by Henry To’o To’o on third down forced a Wildcat punt. On the other side, the Vols offense appeared to be rolling on their first outing but after a couple first downs, a costly sack on third down ended the drive and knocked them out of field goal range.
“Just contain (Terry Wilson),” To’o To’o said about the defensive game plan. “And he did a good job of using his legs, getting out of the pocket. It just goes back to execution. The coaches did a great job of coming up with a game plan for him and we just have to execute.”
On the next drive, Tennessee defender Bryce Thompson recovered a fumble, but a couple plays later Jarrett Guarantano mishandled the snap and turned the ball over. Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph, a transfer from LSU, scored the first points of the game when he returned Guarantano’s pass 41 yards for a pick-six.
On the next drive, the Wildcats doubled their lead as Jamin Davis returned an interception 85 yards leading to JT Shrout entering the game at quarterback for the Vols. However, Shrout was backed up due to a chop block penalty and threw an interception on his first drive. Kentucky’s Matt Ruffolo converted a 30-yard field goal and Guarantano returned on the following Tennessee drive.
The Vols finally got on the scoreboard when Ty Chandler powered into the endzone with just over a minute and half left in the second quarter. Eric Gray was the workhorse on the majority of the drive and he spoke about it afterwards.
“That was big testament to the (offensive) line.” Gray said “They came out and blocked well. We pretty much ran the same play over (and over).”
On the other side of the half, the Wildcats extended the gap once again as Allen Dailey Jr. caught the one-yard pass in the endzone. Then with just over a minute left in the third quarter, Ruffolo added another three points, extending Kentucky’s margin to 20 points. The Wildcats scored again on the next drive, further putting the game away as Chris Rodriguez Jr. charged into the endzone.
On the ensuing drive, true freshman Harrison Bailey took the field at quarterback and completed his first pass 24 yards to Malachi Wideman. However, nothing came of it as Tennessee turned it over on downs after getting into the red zone. The Vols could not get anything going and Kentucky was able to run out the clock to claim victory.
“When you look at this,” Jeremy Pruitt said. “There’s lots of area that we need to improve, obviously, but it’s more about creating the right habits. It’s how you practice every single day. It’s the work ethic, creating the right habits and it’s on everybody within our organization, to really improve that. We’ve got to work hard to do that.”