WHAT HAPPENED: Tennessee scored 28 straight points after falling behind 14-10 to defeat Kentucky 52-21 in front of 60,886 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington.
The Vols improved to 4-4, 2-3 in the SEC. Kentucky fell to 4-4, 2-4.
Tennessee marched down to Kentucky’s 15-yard line on its first possession, but Kentucky safety Marcus McWilson blitzed and sacked Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs, who fumbled into the hands of defensive lineman Cory Johnson, who ran 77 yards for a Kentucky touchdown.
Two possessions later, Tennessee tied the game with a bruising 28-yard touchdown run by Dobbs. The Vols then took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 44-yard field goal by kicker Aaron Medley.
Kentucky took the lead on the ensuing possession, however. To that point, the Wildcats had managed just 2 yards of offense. Kentucky drove 75 plays on 14 yards and scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal by quarterback Patrick Towles.
On Tennessee’s first play from scrimmage on the following drive, however, Dobbs found wide receiver Josh Malone on a fly route down the right sideline for a 75-yard touchdown pass, the longest pass of Dobbs’ career and the longest passing touchdown by Tennessee since 2011.
That pass put the Vols up 17-14, and began a stretch of four straight possessions on which they scored touchdowns. On the next drive, redshirt sophomore Alvin Kamara broke loose for a 63-yard run that took the Vols to the Kentucky 1-yard line. Dobbs scored on a 1-yard run two plays later to make it 24-14, the lead Tennessee took into the locker room at halftime.
The Vols scored on their first drive of the half when running back Jalen Hurd took a screen pass and ran 37 yards for a touchdown. Linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. intercepted a pass from Towles on the next possession and returned it to the Kentucky 4-yard line. Hurd scored on a 4-yard rush on the next play to make it 38-14.
Tennessee finally answered with a four-play 75-yard drive and a 39-yard touchdown pass from Towles to wide receiver Patrick Towles. However, kick returner Evan Berry took the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. Tennessee forced Kentucky to punt on the next drive, and cornerback Cameron Sutton returned the punt 84 yards for a touchdown to make it 52-21.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Dobbs completed 16 of 26 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards and two scores on just seven carries.
Malone caught four passes for 103 yards and that touchdown, becoming the first Tennessee wide receiver with a 100-yard game since Alton “Pig” Howard had 109 yards against South Carolina last year.
Hurd had just 61 yards on 18 carries with Kentucky’s front making it difficult to run the ball. He scored a touchdown, however, and was just under 100 total yards with the 37-yard reception. Kamara had 70 yards on just four carries and two catches for 13 yards.
Berry had his third kickoff return for a touchdown this season. Sutton had his punt return and also broke up what could have been a touchdown pass in the end zone.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Kentucky hadn’t been very good against the run all season, but the Wildcats put most of their focus into stopping Hurd and they were mostly successful, holding him to just 3.4 yards per carry. However, that focus made Kentucky particularly susceptible to quarterback keepers on the zone read option. Dobbs averaged 7.3 yards per carry on his seven carries.
The focus on Hurd also opened the downfield passing game. The Vols converted eight of 15 third downs, in large part because of that passing game. Dobbs’ 75-yard pass to Malone was against single coverage, which UT receivers often faced.
On defense, the Vols mostly kept the ball in front of them and even though they had just two sacks, they again brought extensive pressure on the quarterback.
And of course, they got two touchdowns on special teams, continuing what has to be one of the best return game seasons in Tennessee history.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Kentucky was the best all-around team remaining on Tennessee’s schedule in its final five games of the season. It was the only one with a winning record, and it had the advantage of having the Vols at home on Halloween night.
But the Vols outclassed Kentucky from the beginning. The Wildcats’ strip-sack fumble skewed reality for a while, as Tennessee had 174 total yards to Kentucky’s 2 at one point when the game was tied 7-7. The Vols finished with 482 yards to Kentucky’s 349, and could have scored 70 points if they so desired.
That speaks well for Tennessee’s hopes of running the table. North Texas might be the only remaining walkthrough on the schedule and South Carolina gave Texas A&M a run on Saturday. However, the Vols should be heavily favored against the Gamecocks as well as Vanderbilt at home. Tennessee’s road game at Missouri on Nov. 21 could still prove challenging, especially with Missouri leading the SEC in scoring defense. However, if the Vols put together as complete a performance as they did Saturday, beating the Tigers shouldn’t be too much of a problem either.