Photo: Dan Harralson/USATodayNetwork
KNOXVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Volunteers (5-5, 2-4 SEC) hosted the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (7-3, 5-3 SEC) on Saturday night, taking an early lead and never letting it go on the way to a 24-7 victory in Neyland Stadium.
After exchanging punts in the first quarter, Tennessee kicker Brent Cimaglia got things started with a 19-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 5:09 left in the first quarter. The Vols made it 10-0 with just over two minutes left in the first half on a Tim Jordan touchdown, but it was the Tennessee defense that continued to step up against a Kentucky offense that had been averaging 200 rush yards per game leading up to the matchup.
Benny Snell, the Wildcats’ star running back, was held to 81 yards on 20 carries.
Kentucky was shut out in the first half, and it appeared as though the score at the break was going to be 10-0, as the Vols got the ball on their own 28-yard line with 1 minute left looking to run out the clock.
The Vols gained a couple of chunk plays, and suddenly were on the Kentucky 39-yard line with 6 seconds remaining. On the ensuing play, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano connected with Marquez Callaway on a 39-yard touchdown as time expired to give Tennessee a 17-0 lead at halftime.
“It was a big seven-point momentum swing that I’m sure they weren’t counting on when the drive started,” said Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, “we weren’t either. But to me, you have to play the game like there is no scoreboard, so it’s 0-0. I thought our kids did that.”
Guarantano was 12 for 20 passing with 197 yards and 2 touchdowns, and broke the Tennessee school record for most consecutive passes without an interception, topping Casey Clausen’s record of 143.
“Jarrett (Guarantano) is a smart guy” said Pruitt, “He is learning a new system, which isn’t easy for anybody.
“I think he has done a good job of trying to understand and play within himself.”
In the second half, Tennessee continued to build on its lead, as Guarantano threw his second touchdown pass of the night to tight end Dominic Wood-Anderson in the back of the end zone, from the 2-yard line after a Jordan Murphy 59-yard run. Suddenly, the Vols had a 24-0 lead over the No. 11 team in the country midway through the third quarter.
Kentucky followed the score with a touchdown drive of their own, capped off by a 19-yard touchdown to tight end C.J. Conrad thrown by Terry Wilson, to make it 24-7 before the start of the fourth quarter.
From there, the Vols defense stepped up in a major way, blocking a field goal and forcing three turnovers. Linebacker Darrell Taylor had a career day, with 7 total tackles, 4 sacks, 4 TFLs, and a forced fumble.
“All week we’ve been stressing not letting the quarterback get out of the pocket,” said Taylor, “and it turned out good for us in the game.”
Kentucky has not beaten Tennessee in Neyland Stadium since 1984, and that streak was kept alive on Saturday as the Vols moved closer to bowl eligibility.
“The University of Tennessee is supposed to be in bowl games.” said Pruitt, “That’s the expectation here. That’s my expectation; that’s our players expectations.”
Tennessee plays its final home next Saturday, hosting Missouri on senior day with a chance to secure its sixth win and give the Vols a chance to continue playing in December.