Despite dominating the time of possession, finishing with more total yards, rushing yards, first downs, total plays, kicking fewer punts, and taking a 13-0 lead to start the game, the Kentucky Wildcats still managed to fall to the Tennessee Volunteers by a final score of 17-13.
After a Tennessee opening touchback, Kentucky took the ball at the 25 and drove it down the field 75 yards in 17 plays for a touchdown, taking a whopping 10 minutes and 18 seconds off the clock. 50 of those yards came from Lynn Bowden (42 rushing yards, eight passing yards), with AJ Rose punching it in from the two to take a 7-0 lead.
In the defense’s first drive, Boogie Watson started things off with a bang, forcing a three-yard loss on a pass in the flats. After a short run on second and a pass breakup on third, Josh Paschal blocked the Tennessee punt to put the Wildcats in phenomenal field position at the UT24.
Just two plays later, Kavosiey Smoke found open space on the left hash mark and dove in for the sideline touchdown. A blocked Chance Poore point-after resulted in a 13-0 lead for the Wildcats with 2:28 to go in the first quarter.
After trading three-and-outs, the Volunteers took back over at the 20-yard line with 14:12 remaining in the second quarter. Brian Maurer tossed a 30-yard dart to UT star receiver Jauan Jennings before finding Josh Palmer on consecutive 17-yard and 14-yard completions to move into the redzone for the first time. In bend-but-don’t-break fashion, the Wildcats stopped Tennessee on third-and-long to force a field goal. From the nine, Tennessee kicker Brent Cimaglia drilled a 26-yarder to cut Kentucky’s lead to 13-3 with 9:19 to go in the second quarter.
In response, the Wildcats drove down the field 38 yards in seven plays, working their way down to the Tennessee 37. After a fantastic play-action pass playcall that saw Justin Rigg wide open for a would-be touchdown, Bowden left the throw short for an interception, his first mistake of the evening.
Luckily the throwing error wouldn’t come back to hurt the Wildcats – immediately at least – as Nigel Warrior’s pick-six was overturned after it was determined the Tennessee defensive back stepped out of bounds at the UT46. Instead of another touchdown on the board for the Volunteers, the Kentucky defense forced yet another three-and-out, giving the offense the ball back at the 14-yard line with 4:41 remaining in the half.
Bowden got the drive rolling with a 21-yard run to the left sideline, and after getting shaken up on a hit to the helmet, followed it up with a ridiculous cross-field 12-yard scramble that would make Johnny Manziel shed a tear.
To put the icing on the cake, the Wildcat playmaker gave a Michael Jordan shrug.
Scrambles like Johnny Manziel, shrugs like Michael Jordan. https://t.co/RS7pQqLSLa
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) November 10, 2019
After coming up with just nine yards over the next three plays, though, Kentucky opted to punt on fourth and one, giving Tennessee one final opportunity to score before half.
Maurer completed an impressive 34-yard pass to Marquez Calloway on the left sideline to make a push into Kentucky territory, but a heave to the end zone in the final seconds was knocked down to give the Wildcats a 13-3 lead at the half.
After intermission, backup Garrett Guarantano replaced Maurer at quarterback, leading the Volunteers down the field 75 yards in seven plays for a touchdown score. The redshirt junior found Calloway on a fade to the right corner of the end zone for a 17-yard score, cutting the UK lead to just three, 13-10.
With Tennessee coming out firing, Kentucky did the opposite, going three-and-out in just 2:02, giving the Volunteers the ball back at the UT32. In response, Tennessee drove right down the field once again, completing passes of 19, 19, 3, and 12 to get down to the 12 yard-line. Once again, Guarantano hit a receiver – this time it was Palmer – on a fade in the right corner of the end zone to take a 17-13 lead with 6:28 to go in the third quarter.
Chris Rodriguez took over as the lead back on Kentucky’s next drive, rushing for totals of 11, 9, and 18 yards on three consecutive handoffs. After getting it down to the UT36, the UK coaching staff took the redshirt freshman out in favor of AJ Rose, with the Wildcats turning the ball over on downs after three straight runs and a sack.
The Kentucky defense would hold, though, forcing a three-and-out. Starting from the five, Bowden found Josh Ali for a 12-yard gain, followed by runs of 23 and 12 yards by Rodriguez. A clutch roughing the passer penalty on third and 14 pushed the Wildcats into Tennessee territory. Kentucky couldn’t capitalize, though, turning the ball over on downs at the UT38 and giving the ball back to the Volunteers with 8:23 remaining in the game.
With Kentucky in desperate need of a momentum shift, they got one, as a forced fumble by the UK defense was recovered by Marquan McCall at the UT45. In response, Bowden, combined with a shared backfield of Smoke and Rodriguez, gutted out ten consecutive runs of positive yards to get down to the UT2.
On a fourth and two from the two, Bowden was stuffed at the line of scrimmage to force yet another turnover on downs. The Volunteers took over near their own goal line with 1:17 to go.
With one final opportunity on defense with three timeouts in their back pocket, the Wildcats held strong on the first two plays, but gave up a 10-yard run to Guarantano on third down.
Victory formation, Volunteers. Defeat, Wildcats.
Bowden finished the day with 114 yards on the ground on 26 carries to go with 25 yards and an interception through the air on 4-7 passing.
Rodriguez managed 81 yards on 12 carries, good for 6.8 yards per carry. Smoke also added 58 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, good for 7.3 YPC. The team combined for 302 total rushing yards compared to Tennessee’s 83.
On defense, Jordan Griffin led the Wildcats with four tackles, with four players finishing with three. Calvin Taylor managed Kentucky’s lone sack, with Watson accounting for the team’s only other tackle for loss.
For Tennessee, Guarantano led the way with 115 passing yards and two touchdowns to go with a team-high 30 yards on the ground. Maurer also adding 98 yards through the air and 18 yards on the ground.
Calloway was a force on the outside for the Volunteers, finishing with four catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in the victory. Palmer also added 55 receiving yards and a touchdown.
With the loss, Kentucky moves to 4-5 on the season and 2-5 in conference play. They have also guaranteed a finish of no better than sixth in the SEC East.
UK will need to win two of its last three games to guarantee a bowl bid.
The Wildcats are set to take on Vanderbilt in Nashville next weekend, with a kickoff slated for 3:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.