Rapid Reaction: Tennessee rallies to top Kentucky
Kentucky had a wide receiver with limited passing experience playing quarterback.
But Tennessee was the offense that could not get moving.
Then Jarrett Guarantano entered the game at quarterback for the Vols in the second half.
Guarantano sparked a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter then led another TD drive later in the third to give Tennessee the lead for good as the Volunteers defeated the Wildcats at 17-13 Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
UK (4-5, 2-5 SEC) had 40-plus minutes in time of possession and outgained the Vols 327-296 despite having just 25 passing yards.
But the Vols (5-5, 3-3) held when it mattered most, denying the Wildcats on three 4th-down attempts in the second half including the most critical one when they stuffed Lynn Bowden on an option run at the UT 2-yard line with just more than a minute remaining.
In addition to Guarantano giving the UT offense a boost, the Vols defense, which started the game poorly, stepped up in the second half. That was especially true when the Vols denied the Wildcats on a 4th-down play in UT territory with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter.
UK could not maintain its first-half momentum, when it went on touchdown drives in its first two possessions.
On Tennessee’s first drive of the third quarter, Guarantano hit Marquez Callaway for a 17-yard score; Callaway also had a 33-yard catch on the drive.
The Vols went ahead 17-13 on Guarantano’s 12-yard strike to Josh Palmer. The play was initially ruled a no catch but replay showed Palmer got his foot in bounds with possession. That capped a 7-play, 68-yard drive.
Bowden, who had an SEC-leading 498 rushing yards in his previous 3 games coming in, and the Wildcats rushing attack was nearly impossible for UT to stop in the first half even though the Vols had to know UK would run on nearly every play.
The first Kentucky drive was a bad start for the Vols defense. The Wildcats drove 17 plays, their longest possession this season, for the opening touchdown.
Kentucky converted on 3rd and 2 early; the Vols helped by jumping offside on the previous play. Sawyer Smith entered the game at quarterback and ran a sneak for a first down on 4th and short.
Kentucky was full of interesting wrinkles early. Asim Rose converted on a 3rd-and-short run near the goal line, then ran for a 2-yard TD out of the wildcat formation for a 7-0 Wildcats lead. Rose surpassed 1,000 career rushing yards later in the first half.
It got worse quickly for Tennessee. UT had a quick 3 and out with Brian Maurer starting at QB, compounded when punter Paxton Brooks dropped a snap and had the punt blocked.
UK took over at the UT 24 and scored two plays later on Kavosiey Smoke’s rush from 22 yards. UK’s season-long kicking woes continued when the Vols blocked the point after to keep the deficit at 13-0.
Early in the second quarter, Maurer twice converted third downs by hitting Palmer on passes. Maurer then ran for 17 yards on 3rd and 20 to lead to a chip shot 26-yard field goal by Brent Cimaglia, putting the Vols on the board.
Bowden, on just his 4th pass attempt of the game, was intercepted. Vols linebacker Nigel Warrior picked off a pass intended for tight end Justin Rigg. Warriors ran the pick into the end zone but upon review he was ruled out at the UT 46-yard line.
UT wound up punting and did not threaten again until very late in the first half. Maurer’s 34-yard pass to Callaway, who led the SEC in yards per catch coming in, set up an unsuccessful Hail Mary pass to end the first half.
Kentucky dominated the first half more than the 13-3 lead would indicate; the Wildcats had 21:16 in time of possession for the first two quarters.