Kentucky football: Grading Wildcats' Week 4 domination of Tennessee
After 3 1/2 decades of losing in Knoxville, Kentucky flipped the script in a 34-7 domination of Tennessee on Saturday. Among the many positives was that Kentucky has one fewer lengthy streak to distract them from being competitive in the SEC. Digging a little deeper, here’s what we liked and didn’t like from Kentucky’s big day.
What we liked
Sticky-fingered defense (again)
Nine interceptions in Kentucky’s past two games played a significant role in the two victories. While this week’s 3 picks were only half the previous week’s total, 2 went to the house, courtesy of Kelvin Joseph (41 yards) and Jamin Davis (85 yards). Kentucky outgained Tennessee by only 7 total yards, but that “hidden” 126 yards (and 14 points) were keys to the victory.
No big plays allowed
Not only did Kentucky come up with 4 turnovers, they avoided getting stung by big plays from the Vols, which had been a key to Tennessee’s past two wins in the series. Kentucky didn’t allow a rush longer than 14 yards and allowed only 2 passes longer than 11, one of which came in the closing minutes with Kentucky up by 27. Making Tennessee move the length of the field a few yards at a time caused the Vols to bog down repeatedly.
Kentucky struggled horribly on offense early in the game, managing only 75 first-half yards and 4 first downs. But in the second half, Kentucky leaned on its physical ground game, rushing 28 times for 159 yards. Bruising back Chris Rodriguez was particularly effective, picking up 73 yards on 13 carries and capping UK’s scoring with a goal-line touchdown.
Kentucky’s junior linebacker not only had an 85-yard pick-6, he had a game-high 12 tackles. Davis had 42 tackles in his first two seasons in Lexington. He has had 35 stops in the first four games of 2020 — and with him playing at an All-SEC level, Kentucky’s other linebackers are freed up to keep making the big plays that have caused this season to take off.
What we didn’t like
Struggles with Gray
Tennessee running back Eric Gray was by far the star of his team’s offensive gameplan. Gray rushed 24 times for 128 yards, and he repeatedly gashed Kentucky on Tennessee’s late second-quarter scoring drive that drew the Vols back into the game. To be sure, Gray is one of the best backs in the SEC, but Kentucky can’t be thrilled with allowing him 5.3 yards per carry.
Let’s be honest: Much of this game was painful in terms of Kentucky’s offense. The Wildcats passed for 107 yards and rushed for 4.2 yards per carry. Particularly in the first half, the offense couldn’t string together positive plays. Kentucky’s longest drive of the half went 25 yards, and the Wildcats held the football for less than 13 minutes. Kentucky righted the ship late, but it’s a dangerous thing to depend on your defense to provide your first-half offense.
Kentucky nose guard Quinton Bohanna went down in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury. Bohanna is not a player who tends to pile up big statistics, but his presence in the middle is pivotal for freeing up other players to pile up sacks and picks. There aren’t too many 357-pound players in the SEC, particularly as nimble as Bohanna. Hopefully, Kentucky can get him back soon.
Sure, Terry Wilson isn’t Joe Montana. But he isn’t Joe Schmoe, either. He has won at Florida and Tennessee and led the team to a 10-win season, which makes him the first UK quarterback since Derrick Ramsey to hit on that trifecta. Wilson’s receivers aren’t doing him a ton of favors. Josh Ali lost a fumble on one pass, and he caught a sideline pass but couldn’t drag his toes inbounds. Keaton Upshaw dropped a gorgeous pass over the middle in the Tennessee end zone. Wilson’s style of play can sometimes be less than stunning, but if Kentucky’s going to make plays in the passing game, his receivers have to help him out.