Two defensive touchdowns on three consecutive first half interceptions propelled Kentucky to its first victory over Tennessee at Neyland Stadium since 1984. The 34-7 win snaps a 17-game game losing streak in Knoxville, previously the longest active losing streak at one venue in FBS.
Kelvin Joseph was the first to get in on the fun, breaking on a hitch route to stroll 41 yards for a touchdown. Jamin Davis had to work a little harder, bumbling and stumbling 85 yards to reach the end zone. Tyrell Ajian’s interception on the next possession set up a Matt Ruffolo field goal that gave UK an early 17-0 lead.
Kentucky’s defense did not get much help from the offense in the first half. Ruffolo had to kick a field goal after Keaton Upshaw dropped a touchdown pass. In the first half the Wildcat offense accumulated just 75 yards on 25 plays (3 yards per play).
That all changed in the third quarter thanks to a competent passing game and Chris Rodriguez.
After forcing a three-and-out on Tennessee’s opening drive, the UK offense was ready to help the defense. Even though an 18-yard pass to Josh Ali on the first play of the drive was overturned, the longest Kentucky play of the day at the time, the Wildcats marched 76 yards down the field to score on a fade to Allen Dailey, his second big reception of the momentum-swinging drive.
Chris Rodriguez got UK into striking range on the drive that took the wind out of the Vols’ sails, going 42 yards on six carries to assume the role as Kentucky’s featured back. He finished the day with 13 carries for 73 yards and a score that put Kentucky up 34-7.
Kentucky’s defense gave up only 22 yards and one first down in the third quarter, forcing three Tennessee punts to start the route.
At halftime many Kentucky fans feared the worst. The Big Blue Nation had its heart ripped out one too many times. Instead, Kentucky found its offensive identity while the Wildcats’ defense pounced on wounded prey.
Few fans have ever seen Kentucky win in Knoxville. Few Kentucky football wins have ever been more satisfying.