Rapid Reaction: Streak-busting Kentucky gets defensive in huge win at Tennessee
Throughout Mark Stoops’ tenure at Kentucky, one of his biggest roles has been streak-buster.
For a Kentucky program that hadn’t been competitive in the SEC since the late 1970s, there were plenty of streaks that Stoops sought to end, and he’s had a significant amount of success. Another streak bit the dust Saturday afternoon in Knoxville. Kentucky had last won at UT in 1984. The UK defense turned a series of turnovers, including a pair of pick-6, into the foundation of a 34-7 upset victory over Tennessee.
It was the second consecutive week in which Kentucky’s defense, after being shredded by Ole Miss in Week 2, made the difference. The Cats intercepted 6 passes last week against Mississippi State. They now have forced 10 turnovers in the past 2 weeks, including 3 pick-6s.
After a scoreless 1st quarter, LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph jumped an errant Jarrett Guarantano pass at the UT 41-yard line, and took it down the right sideline for a touchdown to give Kentucky a lead it would not relinquish with 12:47 to play in the second quarter.
Tennessee sportsbooks are live in the Volunteer state since November 1, 2020. Tennessee was the first SEC state to legalize sports betting.
Only 2:14 later, Guarantano had driven the Vols into field goal range, but another pass found a UK defender, this time linebacker Jamin Davis, who rumbled 85 yards with the pass to extend the Kentucky lead to 14-0. A 3rd interception (by safety Tyrell Ajian) set Kentucky up on the edge of field goal range, and after a dropped pass in the end zone, UK extended its advantage to 17-0 on a 30-yard Matt Ruffolo field goal with 6:18 to go before halftime.
Tennessee finally answered, running the ball on 12 of 14 plays of a drive that ended in a 4-yard Ty Chandler scoring run, drawing the Vols to within 17-7 with 1:36 left in the half. Tennessee held a 203-75 total yard advantage in the opening half, but it hardly mattered.
The second half opened with a 3-and-out from the Vols, and Kentucky then went 76 yards on 11 plays, culminating in a 1-yard pass from Terry Wilson to Allen Dailey. That score, which moved UK’s advantage to 24-7, also ate up almost 6 minutes of clock, reaching the end zone with 7:24 left in the 3rd quarter.
After a single Vols first down as followed by yet another 3-and-out, Kentucky drove for another field goal, a 27-yard make from Ruffolo with 1:02 to play in the 3rd quarter, that stretched the lead to 27-7. From there, the Wildcats rode the ground game with Wilson and sophomore RB Chris Rodriguez for the rest of the game. Rodriguez’s 2-yard score early in the 4th quarter extended Kentucky’s edge to 34-7.
Kentucky moved to 2-2 on the season, and again, after 2 weeks without forcing a single turnover, exploited UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who had previously been outstanding against Kentucky, for a trio of turnovers, with a 1st-quarter fumble adding to the 2nd-quarter picks.
The Wildcats will now face Missouri on the road next week, due to SEC schedule moves. The Wildcats were previously set to host Georgia, but that game is moved back a week to Halloween night.
Tennessee suffered a second consecutive loss, moving to 2-2. The Vols’ next matchup will be hosting Alabama next weekend.
Given Guarantano’s struggles, look for UT’s quarterback to be a significant topic of discussion for the next week, although backup J.T. Shrout threw UT’s third interception in a brief 2nd-quarter appearance in relief of Guarantano. Touted freshman Harrison Bailey took over in the 4th quarter for the Vols.