Saturday ended an unforgettable streak for Kentucky. For the first time since 1984, the Wildcats won in Tennessee.
The Kentucky defense did most of the work in the first half, forcing four turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Quarterback Terry Wilson and offense then took over in the second half, giving the Wildcats their first full performance of the season in a 34-7 victory over the No.17 Volunteers.
The victory is only Kentucky’s third in 36 games against Tennessee. He broke a 17-game losing streak in Knoxville.
The SEC network show began by saying Wilson’s job was in jeopardy while Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was not despite the two’s uneven performances this season.
By the end of the game, Tennessee were playing their third-string quarterback and Wilson had become Kentucky’s first quarterback since Derrick Ramsey in 1977 to lead Kentucky to wins in Florida and Tennessee in his career.
Wilson’s stats don’t jump off the page, but he completed 12 of 15 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown and gained 32 yards on eight carries. The Wildcats receivers were lucky enough to catch all three incompleteness.
Kentucky’s offense didn’t score a touchdown until the third quarter, but the early struggles reinforced issues that have more to do with receivers than Wilson. Yes, Wilson lost unnecessary yards by not throwing the ball in the first few games, but he doesn’t need to be perfect when the defense is playing so well and the running game is working.
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Now Kentucky is among the leaders in the country with nine interceptions in the last two games, including three interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Against Tennessee, much-maligned cornerback Kelvin Joseph started the scoring with an interception returned 41 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Six games later, linebacker Jamin Davis returned an 85-yard interception for a touchdown. Tennessee’s next training ended with an interception from security Tyrell Ajian.
These coins gave Kentucky nine interceptions in 16 drives. During the entire 2019 season, 55 of the 130 FBS teams, including the Wildcats, had nine or fewer interceptions all season. Only 21 teams had more interception return yards last season than Kentucky’s 215 in the last two games. Only six teams had more than three interceptions returned for touchdowns last season.
The news was not so good for Tennessee.
Guarantano and JT Shrout have teamed up to produce top half sales for four consecutive possessions.
First, Guarantano was digging into Kentucky Territory when Ty Chandler hit his quarterback’s arm as Guarantano was preparing to throw. Obviously, there was poor communication.
On the next possession, Kelvin Joseph darted past Cedric Tillman on a fast lane, intercepted Guarantano’s pass and returned her 41 yards for a touchdown.
Guarantano didn’t see linebacker Jamin Davis sitting in zone cover on the possession that followed. Davis intercepted a pass intended for Jalin Hyatt and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown.
That pass sent Guarantano to the bench – for a possession. Backup JT Shrout’s first pass was intercepted by Tyrell Ajian and Guarantano returned.
Guarantano finished 14 of 21 for 88 yards.
The Vols relied heavily on their running game after the turnovers.
Eric Gray answered the bell. Gray rushed for a 128-yard season. He carried the ball for nine straight games in Tennessee’s lone touchdown, gaining 57 yards in that span.
Despite trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Volunteers looked poised for a comeback, having passed Kentucky 203-75.
But Tennessee failed to generate a sustained offense and raised the white flag early in the fourth quarter by fielding true rookie Harrison Bailey to replace Guarantano.