It finally happened. It’s been a very long time since 1984 and a good chunk of you reading this were not alive on that day when Jerry Claiborne’s squad pulled out a win at Neyland Stadium. After many closes calls over the years, you could feel how much Mark Stoops wanted this one in media Q&A sessions this week.
UK ran for over 400 yards in the loss in 2016 and one of the program’s best all-time teams dropped an absolute egg in Knoxville back in 2018. This year Kentucky cleaned up the mess. Brad White’s defense was dominant while Eddie Gran made some key second half adjustments to take away Tennessee’s aggressive linebackers. The result was a Rocky Top beatdown with the blue team leaving the stadium with smiles on their faces.
As always, there a few plays in each football game that tell the difference and that is what we’re going to revisit. UK’s defense continues to make some monster plays while the offense got points when the opportunities presented themselves.
1.) Boogie Watson Makes Big Plays
After a three-and-out by the Kentucky offense to start the game, Tennessee got the ball on their own 31 and went on a very methodical drive with a couple of third down conversions. That setup a 3rd-and-11 at Kentucky’s 30 with the home team being very much in field goal range.
The sack by Boogie Watson forced Tennessee out of field goal range and set the tone for the rest of the game. The Vols had major issues blocking UK on the edge on pass downs and one of the best scoring opportunity offenses in the country was flat out stoned all game. The Vols scored just 7 points on 5 scoring opportunities after averaging over 5 points per trip entering the game.
Kentucky set the tone early on defense and kept it rolling throughout all four quarters by limiting Tennessee to just 4.3 yards per play.
Okay, y’all. I’ve got a new football guy term that I think you all are going to love. NOTs — non-offensive touchdowns — are very, very fun. Well, Kentucky has three of them in the last five quarters of football. The pick-six by Kelvin Joseph got the party started in Knoxville. However, the one by Jamin Davis was a back breaker.
An outside pressure by Boogie Watson forces an erratic throw over the middle and Davis would take his fourth career interception 75 yards to the crib with plenty of key blocks thrown by his teammates. This would give UK a two-touchdown lead and forced Jeremy Pruitt to go to backup quarterback J.T. Shrout.
On Shrout’s first throw, the backup quarterback threw an interception which would setup UK’s first offensive score of the game. Kentucky continues to make plays on balls in the air and it is helping swing football games. Three second quarter picks setup a lead that would never be relinquished and made Tennessee one-dimensional with a quarterback with shaky confidence.
The point at the end by Davis was an all-timer.
3.) Red Zone Fade
Out of halftime, Tennessee had some momentum and it felt very pivotal for Kentucky to get a stop on the first possession. They were able to force a three-and-out and it certainly felt like the Wildcats were just one 70-plus yard touchdown drive away from landing a knockout punch. Well, this would be the one.
The Wildcats went 75 yards in 10 plays, but faced a third-and-goal at the one with a 17-7 lead. After Chris Rodriguez Jr. was stuffed for no gain, Eddie Gran surprised everyone with his third down call.
In an obvious run formation with two tight ends and six offensive linemen, Kentucky catches Tennessee off balance with a fade. Wilson makes a good throw and Dailey finishes it off with his second career touchdown. UK went up 24-7 and Tennessee had no chance after this beautiful drive.
For the first time in maybe series history, Kentucky entered this game in a great spot. The Wildcats were fresh off a big home win over Mississippi State while the Wildcats caught the Vols in a sandwich spot between games against Georgia and Alabama. However, you still have to go make it happen between the white lines.
Takeaways forced by the defense help pull the offense out of a slow start as the Wildcats cruised to a 34-7 thrashing of Tennessee. UK went to a heavy RPO game in the second half and it resulted in a 71.4% second half passing success rate for Terry Wilson to go along with a second half 66.67% rushing success rate from UK’s tailbacks. That’s the winning recipe, but it doesn’t take much when you do what Kentucky did to Jim Chaney’s offense.
Enjoy this one. Not many victories will be much sweeter.