Simply stated, Kentucky went on the road and kicked Tennessee’s tail. The Cats jumped out to a 14-0 lead after a couple of Pick-6s. A UK field goal and UT’s lone scoring drive followed prior to the Cats owning the second half that resulted in a 34-7 win. Lots of positives from this game. Let’s take a look:
Average 4.5 yards per carry. The first half saw the Wildcats rush the football 17 times for just 28 yards for an average of 1.6 yards per carry. Halftime adjustments were made by Eddie Gran. UK’s second half effort resulted in 159 yards off 28 carries for an average of 5.6 yards per carry. The Cats averaged 4.2 for the game. So, this objective was not met but a solid second half more than made up for the first two quarters.
No turnovers. Did not accomplish this goal. Josh Ali fumbled on a pass reception.
Stretch the defense and threaten safeties. First half answer is no. Tennessee linebacker Henry To’o To’o was coming downhill on the snap and was followed by the safeties as well as edge defenders. Halftime adjustments were made. The second half answer is yes. RPOs and play-action passes were called in the third and fourth quarter which opened up the middle of the field. The Kentucky receiving corps has taken a beating on the talk show circuit. However, Josh Ali and company caught 9 passes including an Allen Dailey touchdown. TE’s Justin Rigg and Keaton Upshaw combined for three receptions for 25 yards.
Be efficient on 1st down. Insert broken record reference here. First half no, second half yes. The Cats stayed on schedule for the majority of the second half which forced the UT defense to be off balance. First down plays are incredibly important for this Kentucky offense. The Cats were 6/12 on 3rd down. Its 50% conversion rate leads the SEC.
Return to the Wildcat identity. No and yes. See above for second half rushing statistics.
Completion percentage of 65% or higher. UK met this objective. Terry Wilson completed 80% of his passes on Saturday by going 12/15 for 101-yards and a TD pass. Wilson’s season average is 65%.
Defend the 50/50 ball. Kentucky achieved this goal. The Volunteers made just two trips into the Red Zone and didn’t attempt a shot. A late 50/50 ball was completed in the fourth quarter.
Travel defensive intensity and effectiveness. Absolutely yes. Brad White’s unit is a turnover producing machine after forcing four in Knoxville. Two Pick-6s accounted for 14 of UK’s 34-point total. The Cats held UT to just 7-points on the day and was in control for sixty minutes. The Cats have allowed one touchdown in its past eight quarters against Mississippi State and Tennessee.
Limit Tennessee to less than 125 rush yards. UK did not accomplish this goal. Tennessee rushed for 175. A large portion of those yards were gained in its only scoring drive of the day and in the fourth quarter. Again, Kentucky’s defense was in complete control for 60 minutes.
Tackle. Yes. Losing Quinton Bohanna hurt, but depth along the defensive line was evident. Linebackers combined for 35 tackles and 4 tackles for loss. Overall, solid tackling performance on all three levels of the defense.
Prevent momentum-changing plays. Yes. Tennessee did have explosive plays, however none led to momentum shifting series of events. The Wildcat secondary was excellent much like its performance against Mississippi State.
Pressure Guarantano. UK accomplished this objective. The Cats sacked the beleaguered signal caller twice and frustrated the Volunteer quarterback.
No critical errors. Yes. Kicker Matt Ruffolo was 4/4 on PATs and 2/2 on FG attempts. Max Duffy was Max Duffy.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Kentucky traveled to Knoxville and beat up on the Volunteers. The Cats’ last road win in this series came in 1984. Brad White’s defense has gained momentum and is now one of the top units in the Southeastern Conference. With zero turnovers in its first two games, the Cats have now registered 10 in two games to go along with allowing just seven offensive points. Quite the two-game stretch for the Wildcat defense.
The second half’s offensive performance was what I expected going into 2020. A combination of running the football and RPO/play action passing was the remedy for UT’s linebackers and safeties charging downhill on the snap to stop the run. Terry Wilson completed 80% of his passes and Chris Rodriguez continues to establish himself as Eddie Gran’s go-to ball carrier.
For old-timers like me, this win was special. Really special. Tennessee was UK’s primary rivalry many years before the Governor’s Cup existed. Numerous teams and former players never defeated their neighbors to the south. Me included. I was on the team when Mark Higgs was stopped four times from the one-yard line. I threw a Pick-6 that changed the game’s momentum as a sophomore.
I can only think of my dad on a day like Saturday. So many frustrating endings, so many losses. The Wildcats’ butt whoopin’ of Tennessee was for all those that have suffered through the tribulations formerly known as the Battle for the Beer Barrel.
Up next is Missouri. The Tigers are a dangerous team with yet another high octane offense.