Kentucky missed an opportunity to gain a late jolt of momentum in its 2019 season with a tough 17-13 loss to Tennessee in Lexington. UK outgained Tennessee 327-296 and held the football for more than 41 minutes, but it was all for naught. It’s time to break down the highs and lows of the Wildcats’ setback.

What I liked

A hot start

Kentucky drove down the field for a game-opening touchdown then converted a blocked punt into a second early touchdown. The Wildcats had more than a 100-yard advantage over Tennessee in the first quarter. For a team that has struggled to open games well, this was an impressive statement.

Rodriguez and Smoke

Kentucky’s backup running backs, freshmen Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke, both thrived off the bench. The two combined for 20 carries for 139 yards and 1 of UK’s 2 touchdowns. Given their solid play, we would expect to see more variety in the Kentucky backfield moving forward.

Kavosiey Smoke came off the bench to run for 58 yards and a score. Photo by: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky defense

There were some struggles in pass coverage, but UK held UT to 17 points and less than 300 yards. Late in the game, the defense even grabbed a fumble to give UK its best shot to reclaim the lead. Normally, the items above would be a recipe for success in an SEC game.

The crowd

Kentucky had a near-capacity crowd of 56,760 to see a 4-4 UK team play a 4-5 Tennessee team on a brisk night where the temperature was 40 degrees at kickoff. While the Wildcats came up short, it wasn’t a lack of fan support at fault.

What I didn’t like

Kicking troubles

When freshman Chance Poore had his extra point blocked after Kentucky’s second touchdown, it didn’t seem especially pivotal. Late in the Wildcats’ four-point loss, when UK had to go for touchdowns instead of field goals, the play’s true significance was apparent. Kentucky has gotten subpar results from both of its two placekickers all season.

Soft pass coverage

After an excellent defensive first half, Kentucky opened the second half by treating UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and his receivers as if they were the New England Patriots. Guarantano promptly fired the ball down the field for two scoring drives that were the difference in the game. He finished 7-for-8 for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Offensive playcalling

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is severely limited with Lynn Bowden Jr. at quarterback, but some of his second-half play calls were perplexing. On one drive, Kentucky turned the ball over on downs after Bowden threw an off-target deep ball on fourth and 3. On UK’s pivotal final possession, the Tennessee defense was all over Gran’s final two plays. Kentucky’s rushing for 302 yards was impressive, but when the game was on the line, Gran seemed disconnected from his personnel.