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The Kentucky Wildcats (5-3, 2-3 SEC) fell to the No. 21 Tennessee Volunteers (6-2, 3-2 SEC) in Lexington on Saturday night. The game included both some bright spots and disappointments for the ‘Cats. The bright spots were highlighted by the Kentucky offense. QB Devin Leary had the best game of his Kentucky career, going 28 for 39 passing for 378 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs. The receiving attack was led by Dane Key with 7 receptions for 113 yards and a score. Barion Brown added 5 catches for 58 yards and a TD. Ray Davis continued his 8-game touchdown streak with a rushing TD (16 carries, 42 yards). At times, the play calling was questionable, given the game situation. The ‘Cats had multiple opportunities to kick a field goal as they elected to either go for the 4th down or make a puzzling throwing decision instead of gaining the needed yards for a field goal. Still, the offense was not the issue for the ‘Cats in Saturday nights game. The Kentucky defense continued its downward spiral. However, a team that is usually stout against the run (2nd best in the SEC), allowed a season-high 253 yards to the Volunteers, and a whopping 482 total yards in the game. Overall, it was a winnable game that the Wildcats dropped at home, with a few plays here and there potentially changing the outcome for Kentucky. Those plays didn’t happen for the ‘Cats, resulting in the third straight loss for Kentucky after a hot 5-0 start to the season. Things won’t get any easier for Kentucky as far as scheduling goes, with 3 of the final 4 games coming on the road and the lone home game being against No. 9 Alabama in two weeks. The ‘Cats will be frantically searching for one more win this season to become bowl eligible.
Prior to the bye week, the ‘Cats fell at home to Missouri in devastating fashion, falling 38-21 after a 4th quarter collapse. The ‘Cats had two weeks to prepare for the Vols and try to work out some of the kinks that are still present in the offense 8 weeks into the season. This game served as a crossroad point for transfer QB Devin Leary. Leary has not performed to the standard that he, the coaches, or the fans expected. The ‘Cats need their QB to step up in big spots, and Saturday night was one of the biggest of the season. The ‘Cats success on offense has almost solely through star RB Ray Davis so far this season. Davis has accumulated 781 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns on the season to pair with 193 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns. What Big Blue Nation thought would be a strong point in the offense in its trio of returning receivers, has been a glaring weak point in Tayvion Robinson, Dane Key, and Barion Brown. Drops have doomed the receiving core throughout the year. The team needed to show up for the big game and execute their way to success. As for the defense, the ‘Cats were without LB Trevin Wallace against Missouri, but he returned to take on Tennessee, along with fellow defenseman Jalen Geiger. The mantra of past Kentucky defenses has been bend but don’t break, but this defense has been broken over and over the last 2 weeks of game action. The ‘Cats have surrendered and astounding 89 points to Georgia and Missouri. The defense had to stiffen up for the Wildcats for a chance to win Saturday night. Other keys to the game included not getting behind the chains on 2nd and 3rd downs, getting Leary into a rhythm in the passing game, and getting consistency from the receiving core. On the defensive side, containing the running game with Milton and the RBs, and forcing bad decisions from Milton in the passing game.
Tennessee arrived in Lexington coming off of a total second half collapse against Alabama on the road a week ago. The Vols led the Crimson Tide 20-7 at halftime prior to surrendering 27 unanswered points in the second half. The Vols are led by QB Joe Milton, a player with a cannon arm and a threat to pick up yards on the ground. He has collected 12 passing touchdowns on the year, adding 4 more rushing touchdowns on the ground. The Vols receiving core is led by a duo of Squirrel White (39 rec, 416 yds, 1 TD) and Ramel Keyton (19 rec, 301 yds, 3 TDs). The ‘Cats shut down arguably the best receiver in the league last time they played in Luther Burden III of Missouri to just 2 catches for 15 yards. Tennessee relies heavily on the run game, with Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small, and Dylan Sampson all mixing in for touches.
The spread for Saturday night’s matchup was -4 (Tennessee), with an Over/Under set at 50.5.
Tennessee won the toss and elected to differ to the second half. Kentucky received the ball to open the game. The ‘Cats began their first possession on their own 25-yard line following the touchback. The first play of the game was a carry by Ray Davis for no gain. Leary scrambled for a 14 yard gain but came up a yard short, forcing a punt on Kentucky’s first possession. The first Tennessee possession began on their own 30-yard line after a short 36-yard punt by Kentucky. Tennessee had a much quicker pace to start the game than the ‘Cats, converting a 3rd-and-short on a Milton scramble. Wright took a carry for a 52-yard touchdown to put the Vols in front 7-0 following the PAT. The ‘Cats got the ball back with 10:47-minutes to play in the quarter to begin their second drive. Sumo-Karngbaye caught the first pass of the drive for a short gain. The ‘Cats were stuffed on back-to-back short yardage plays on 3rd and 4th down to turn the ball over the Tennessee on the Kentucky 34-yard line. Kentucky got the Volunteers into a 3rd-and-4 situation and the Vols were called for a hold to push them back 10 yards. The Kentucky defense held on the 3rd down chance for Tennessee to force a 44-yard FG that Campbell nailed to put the Vols in front 10-0 with 5:34-minutes to play in the first quarter. Kentucky began their next drive with a big gain from Leary to Dingle for a gain of 22-yards to the Kentucky 47-yard line. The ‘Cats suffered a 10-yard loss before the next play was snapped with back-to-back false start penalties. Sumo-Karngbaye got 5-yards back on a short reception on the next play. Dingle picked up a first down on a 3rd-and-5 play for Kentucky, gaining 16-yards. Robinson converted a nice catch and run after catch for a gain of 17-yards to the Tennessee 11-yard line. The ‘Cats finished the quarter with a 1-yard run by Ray Davis. Tennessee led by a score of 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Leary missed Dingle on a 3rd-and-9 play. Raynor converted a 28-yard field goal to put the ‘Cats on the board at 10-3 Tennessee with 14:51-minutes remaining in the half. Milton launched an incomplete pass that had over 60 air-yards. Wright took the next two plays for chunk first down yardage plays to push the Vols into ‘Cats territory. Tennessee continued to run the ball right into the ‘Cats defense for first down after first down. Back-to-back false starts on Tennessee forced a 3rd-and-long and a good pursuit tackle by Keaton Wade forced another field goal attempt by Tennessee. Campbell nailed a 49-yard field goal to re-extend the Tennessee lead to 10 at 13-3 Vols with 11:13-miuntes remaining. Leary found Brown down the sideline for a big 33-yard gain on first down. Leary then found Key for another quick gain of 10-yards to the Tennessee 33-yard line. Leary connected with Key for a 17-yard gain on a 3rd-and-9 attempt to push the ball to the Tennessee 15-yard line. Leary found Brown in the endzone with a spectacular throw and catch for an 11-yard touchdown. The ‘Cats drew within 3 after the PAT by a score of 13-10 with 7:38-minutes to play in the half. Leary threw for 70 yards on a drive that went 7 plays, 75 yards in 3:35-minutes. Milton scrambled for a gain of 19-yards on the first play of the drive for Tennessee. The Volunteers followed that run up with back-to-back carries for another first down. Jordan Robinson fell down in coverage on the next play and Milton found Nimrod for a 39-yard touchdown pass to put Tennessee back in front 20-10 with 6:16-minutes remaining. Brown-Stephens caught a 20-yard reception on first down on the second play of the next drive for the ‘Cats. Leary again found Key for a crucial third-down conversion and a gain of 10-yards to the Tennessee 41-yard line. Leary found a wide-open TE Kattus for another chunk gain of 17-yards that brought the ‘Cats to the Tennessee 21-yard line. Robinson gained 6-yards on what looked like a busted trick play for Kentucky. Davis followed up with his best carry of the game, an 8-yard rush to the 7-yard line. Davis took an end-around motion handoff for a 7-yard touchdown that brought the ‘Cats again back within 3 with a score of 20-17 Tennessee with 1:46-minutes to play in the half. The touchdown extended Davis’s TD streak to begin the season, scoring in all 8 games for the ‘Cats. The ‘Cats finally stuffed a run from the Vols to begin the next drive. Another stop forced a 3rd-and-6 chance. Tennessee converted the 3rd-down for a gain of 17-yards. The play was reviewed and was confirmed on replay. Tennessee gained another first down to the Kentucky 41-yard line with 17-seconds remaining. Milton scrambled out of the pocket and found White for a gain of 25-yards to the Kentucky 16-yard line with 7-seconds to play. Tennessee chose to not risk another play and attempt a 34-yard field goal which Campbell converted to push the Vols lead to 23-17 at halftime.
Halftime: Tennessee 23 – Kentucky 17
Tennessee began their first drive of the second half on their own 25-yard line. The Kentucky defense held firm for three consecutive runs to force a 4th-and-1. The Volunteers punted the ball for the first time of the game and Kentucky began their first drive of the half at their own 30-yard line with 13:55-minutes to play. Davis took the first carry of the half for a gain of 6-yards. Leary found Key for a short catch and run and a gain of 14-yards to the 50-yard line. Robinson caught a 9-yard pass and Davis followed up with a run for a new set of downs. Leary took a terrible sack for a loss of 11-yards on first down forcing a long 2nd-and-21. Dingle picked up a big chunk of the yardage on a 3rd down play, gaining 15-yards and forcing a 4th-and-6 in a gray area. The 4th down pass attempt was incomplete intended for Sumo-Karngbaye. Tennessee took over on downs on their own 34-yard line. A holding call on first down pushed the Vols into a 1st-and-20. Milton found Thornton for a gain of 49-yards on a 2nd-and-19 and followed up with back-to-back runs for first downs to push the ball inside the Kentucky 10-yard line. Keaton Wade stuffed a QB designed run for a loss of 5-yards and forcing a 3rd-and-12 at the 13-yard line. Deone Walker finally got home for a sack and another loss of 4-yards to force another Tennessee field goal. Campbell doinked in a 35-yard field goal to push the lead to 26-17 Tennessee. Leary connected with Brown for a gain of 12-yards on first down. Back-to-back penalties on Tennessee pushed Kentucky to their own 47-yard line. Leary connected with Key for another big gain of 34-yards to the Tennessee 14-yard line. Leary scrambled for a gain of 8-yards on the next play. Leary found Key for a 7-yard touchdown on a 3rd-and-3 play. The PAT brought the score to 26-24 Tennessee with 2:39-minutes to play in the third quarter. Tennessee quickly ran three plays to get them into a 4th-and-1 situation in which a Kentucky defensive linemen jumped (encroachment) on the next play to give Tennessee a new set of downs. The ‘Cats defense again forced a quick 3rd-and-6. Oxendine and Hayes combined for a huge sack on the next play to force a punt. The score at the end of the third quarter was 26-24 Tennessee.
Tennessee punted the ball to the ‘Cats on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Kentucky drive began on their own 20-yard line. Leary found Davis for a gain of 10 on a 2nd down play for first down yardage. Leary found Key on a perfect throw for a gain of 21-yards to push the ball to the Tennesee 49-yard line. Leary found Sumo-Karngbaye across the middle for a gain of 15-yards to the Tennessee 34-yard line with 12-minutes to play. The drive stalled at the 35-yard line and the ‘Cats attempted a 53-yard field goal by Raynor. The field goal was no good. Tennessee began their drive on the 20-yard line after an unsportsmanlike penalty. Tennessee picked up a first down on a quick pass to the outside. Tennessee converted a variant of a RB screen pass for a big gain that should’ve been stopped in the backfield. A Milton scramble pushed the ball to the Kentucky 38-yard line with 8:30-minutes to play. The ‘Cats defense stopped a first down run then Milton overthrew a receiver in the end-zone to force a 3rd-and-10 from the Kentucky 39-yard line. Tennessee converted the down to push the ball to the 12-yard line. Sampson took the next carry 12-yards for a touchdown. The PAT made the score 33-24 Tennessee with 7:30-minutes to play. The next Kentucky possession began on their own 25-yard line. Robinson took the first play of the drive for a gain of 8-yards. Dingle converted a 3rd-and-2 play for a first down and gain of 8-yards. Davis took the next short pass for another first down gain. A defensive holding call pushed the ball further into Tennessee territory at the 36-yard line with 6:08-minutes to play. Leary found Kattus again wide-open for a big gain of 18-yards. A Davis reception brought the ‘Cats to a 3rd-and-5 from the Tennessee 13-yard line. Brown caught a pass 2-yards short of the first down to force a field goal attempt from Raynor. Raynor converted a 28-yard field goal to narrow the Tennessee lead to 33-27 Tennessee with 4:24-minutes to play. Tennessee began their drive on their own 25-yard line. Sampson broke a tackle for a first down gain with 3:57-minutes remaining and the ball on the Tennessee 36-yard line. Sampson took the next carry for a gain of 24-yards to the Kentucky 40-yard line. The Kentucky defense forced a 3rd-and-7 from the Kentucky 37-yard line. Milton scrambled for a first down with just 1:49-minutes remaining. Tennessee ran out the clock and the ‘Cats fell to the Vols by a score of 33-27.
Final: Tennessee 33 – Kentucky 27
Kentucky – 444 (372 Passing, 72 Rushing)
Tennessee – 482 (228 Passing, 254 Rushing)
Kentucky 0 – Tennessee 0
Time of Possession:
Kentucky – 32:59 minutes
Missouri – 27:01 minutes
Devin Leary – [(28 comp – 39 att) (372 yds) (2 TD) (0 INT)]
Ray Davis – [(16 car) (42 rush yds) (1 rush TD), (3 rec) (28 rec yds)]
Dane Key – [(7 rec) (113 yds) (1 TD)]
Barion Brown – [(5 rec) (58 yds) (1 TD)]
Ty Bryant – [(12 totTk) (5 solo)]
Trevin Wallace – [(11 totTk) (4 solo)]
D’Eryk Jackson – [(11 totTk) (6 solo) (2 TFL)]
Deone Walker – [(3 totTk) (1 solo) (1 sack) (1 TFL) (1 QBH)]
The ‘Cats (5-3, 2-3 SEC) will make their way to Starkville next week as they take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-4, 1-4 SEC). Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.