If one play could sum up the kind of day it was for the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers, it was when the Vols converted a 39-yard hail Mary to turn a game most thought would be dominated by defense, on the path to a rout.
Kentucky (7-3, 5-3 SEC) entered Neyland Stadium on Saturday in search of their first win in Knoxville since 1984, and with the Wildcats fielding their best team in a decade, the consensus was that this would be the year.
After Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Gurantano found Marquez Callaway in the back of the end zone to extend their lead to 17-0 as time expired in the first half, it was becoming clear that despite it already being a season full of milestones for Kentucky, beating Tennessee on their home turf for the first time in nearly 35 years would not be one of them.
Tennessee (5-5, 2-4 SEC) scored in the first three quarters and held Kentucky’s offense in check notching their second win over a ranked opponent in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season, cruising to a 24-7 win that had huge implications on their bowl aspirations.
The offensive woes that have plagued the Wildcats since a loss at Texas A&M in week six continued on Saturday, as the Tennessee defense limited Kentucky to just 262 total yards.
Benny Snell was held to his fourth lowest all-purpose yards of the season at just 81 yards. Terry Wilson did not fare much better, finishing 21-of-34 for 172 yards yards, 1 touchdown and two interceptions.
After struggling in a lackluster, 14-3 win over Charlotte last week, Tennessee’s offense put together their best performance since a 30-24 win over Auburn last month.
In addition to Guarantano’s hail Mary toss just before the half, the sophomore quarterback finished 12-of-20 for 190 yards and two scores.
After being held to just 20 yards on the ground against Charlotte, Tennessee running backs combined for 215 yards against Kentucky, lead by Ty Chandler who posted 89 yards.
Both teams combined for three turnovers, but none were more costly than Kentucky’s, which included fumble and tow interceptions late in the fourth quarter, down 24-7.
The Vols, who now have 5 wins, need one more to achieve bowl eligibility. Tennessee is set to face Missouri at home next Saturday and at Vanderbilt in their last two games of the regular season.
Kentucky’s hopes of a New Year’s Six bowl berth took a major hit in the loss. The Wildcats will host Middle Tennessee State on Saturday before their regular-season finale against Louisville.