That really just happened, folks.
UK Head Coach Mark Stoops has made a living on ending long streaks in his tenure at Kentucky, and he ended one again today as the Cats defeated Tennessee by a score of 34-7 for their first win in Knoxville since 1984. It was Kentucky’s largest margin of victory over the Vols since 1945.
The defense was exceptional for the second straight game, forcing five turnovers and holding the Volunteers to just 3.9 yards per play. Two of those turnovers were pick-sixes on back-to-back drives which put the Cats up 14-0 in the first half.
Altogether, Kentucky has forced 10 turnovers in the last two games, and now lead the nation with eight interceptions and three INT’s returned for touchdown. All of that without even forcing one in the first two games, and looking abysmal after losing to Ole Miss 42-41 in overtime. They also held the Vols to the least amount of points (7) in a matchup between the two since 1976, and it was the fewest points the squad has allowed in an SEC road game since at Florida in 1976 (3 points).
“I definitely feel like our defense is getting sharper, and you could see signs of that in the first two games, but we haven’t been nearly as consistent as we’ve been in the last two (outings). Obviously creating turnovers has been very big for us and very helpful to the outcome of the games. But we’ve just played cleaner overall,” Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops said after the game.
The UK offense was not as fast out of the gate in the first half. They totaled just 75 yards and could not really get any momentum, much like against Mississippi State last week. Because of two interceptions returned for touchdown, Kentucky was up 17-7 at half, but it was not a comfortable lead due to the inability of the offense to sustain drives.
Then in the second half, a light-switch was flipped. After forcing Tennessee to a three-and-out, Kentucky went on an 11 play, 76-yard drive that finished with a touchdown, pushing the margin to a wide 24-7. They then scored on their next two drives to widen the margin to 34-7, all awhile spending 13:46 of game-clock and ending any chance of a comeback.
They began to run the ball effectively in those possessions, finishing with 187 yards on the ground for the game after having just 28 in the first half. Sophomore running back Chris Rodriguez once again led the team in rushing yards, with 73 on 13 carries (5.6 on average) and one touchdown.
Senior quarterback Terry Wilson also had a consistent outing, completing 12 of 15 passes for 101 yards and one score. He is now the second quarterback ever to defeat both Florida in Gainesville and Tennessee in Knoxville in their career (Derrick Ramsey). The Cats overall ended up out-gaining the Vols 294-287, and their 34 points were the third most in school history against Tennessee in Knoxville.
“We knew we had some big opportunities with our run-pass options, tacking it to our run game. And we knew coming into halftime that we had a big shot to put some damage to them by doing that so it worked, and we kept going to it,” Wilson said after the game.
Coach Mark Stoops pleaded that his team must “put it all together” earlier in the week, and that they did. After starting 0-2 on the season, it was a great performance and another huge step for the program.