Ty Back – Lexington, KY
Before tonight Kentucky had lost to Tennessee for five straight years. The last win for Kentucky in the series came in 2011 when UK’s backup Quarterback Matt Roark got the start and led the way to snap the 30+ year drought of Kentucky wins. Too many times had the final score of this border rivalry been in favor of Tennessee. The Cats came into tonight looking to start a winning streak of their own and if they were going to do that, tonight as the night. Earlier in the week, Tennessee’s starting RB was suspended after a drug possession charge and just last night their backup QB was released from the team. Kentucky went from an underdog to a 3 point favorite before the game started.
On the first play of the game UK’s Benny Snell Jr. immediately fumbled the ball on the first possession, leading to a Tennessee recovery and eventually 3 points on the board for the Vols. The fumble was a sign of things to come. UK would fumble 3 more times on the night, all recovered by Tennessee. Kentucky ended the night -4 in turnover margin but their defense proved to hold the Vols to field goals and not touchdowns off of the turnovers.
Speaking of defense, the defense of Kentucky was on the field for the biggest part of the game. Tennessee controlled the ball for nearly 2/3rds of the game holding it 38 minutes and 25 seconds. Being on the field that long certainly led to many of the missed tackles up front that allowed backup running back Ty Chandler to run for a total of 120 yards and 2 touchdowns.
A Stephen Johnson 39 yard run in the third quarter led to UK’s quarterback being tackled hard on his left shoulder. Johnson would visit the locker room for further evaluation while backup Drew Barker would take over the offense for two series. Barker fumbled the ball on his second play giving UT the ball near midfield. After the UK stop, Johnson came running back onto the field to the roar of the Kroger Field crowd.
Kentucky’s offense was stagnant in the second half. The defense was tired but stepped up big and held Tennessee to only 6 points on two field goals that put the Vols up by 5 with 13:24 to play in the game. UK’s offense struggled down the stretch. UK’s next two drives ended in 3 and outs and the win began to slip away. A Tenn. false start penalty on 2nd and 6 put the Vols at 2nd and 11 where T.J. Carter came up big for the Cats and sacked UT’s QB J. Guarantano for an 11 yard loss. On 3rd and 22, the Vols played conservative and ran the ball up the middle for no gain.
Tennessee punted to Kentucky giving the ball to UK on their 28 yard line with only 4:43 to play is the game. Kentucky had to drive 72 yard for a chance to win and that is exactly what they did. Benny Snell rushed for 11 yards on the first play giving the Cats a 1st down on their 39. On 2nd and 10, T. Richardson made a 16 yard catch that was only inches away from being out of bounds incomplete. After a review confirmed the catch, UK was 1st and 10 at the UT 45 yard line. Johnson rushed to the right for 12 yards putting the Cats at the UT 33.
The next four plays saw Benny Snell run for a total of 22 yards putting Kentucky on the Tennessee 11 yard line with around a minute to play. Johnson looked to C.J. Conrad in the end zone on a pass that narrowly missed the Tennessee DB that would’ve ended the game either way if completed or intercepted. Luckily it fell to the ground giving UK another chance at the end zone. With Kentucky down by 5 a field goal would do no good in this situation. On a 2nd and 10 from the UT 11, Johnson would not be denied as he took off for the end zone making an incredible dive from the 3 yard line for the score. With 0:33 left in the game UK took the lead for the first time since 3:40 to go in the 3rd quarter. A two point conversion that saw Benny Snell take the snap from the Wildcat, pitch to Stephen Johnson, who threw the pass back to Snell for the successful conversion put UK up by 3, 29-26.
Tennessee would convert on a 4th and 24 to just keep hanging around. With only 2 seconds on the clock Tennessee would heave a Hail Mary up from midfield for the win…the pass was complete but UK stepped up big and made the tackle at the 3 yard line and Kentucky escaped.
Coach Mark Stoops’s first words in his post game press conference were “You have to admit that that’s a thing of beauty!” A thing of beauty is not the words that I would use to describe the game but I’ll take an ugly win over a beautiful loss any day. The Cats move to 6-2 on the season and Tennessee drops to 3-5. This win makes Kentucky bowl eligible for the second straight year.
- Benny Snell Jr. finished the game with 27 carries for 180 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.
- Stephen Johnson completed only 6 passes tonight for 46 yards but sealed the game on the 11 yard touchdown run with only 33 seconds left on the clock.
- Tavin Richardson led in receiving yards for the cats tonight with 3 catches for 52 yards but was ejected late in the game after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
- Linebacker Jordan Jones led the Kentucky defense with 13 tackles tonight.
Kentucky will return to action next Saturday at Kroger Field where they’ll play host to Ole Miss. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC network. Be sure to catch our coverage on Bluegrass Sports Nation on Facebook and Twitter.