LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky used the run to take control early. Tennessee used the pass to find victory by the end.
In a game dominated by two different play-styles, the Vols (5-5, 3-3 SEC) rallied from a 13-3 halftime deficit with a successful passing attack, headlined by redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, to defeat the Wildcats (4-5, 2-5 SEC) in Lexington on Saturday, 17-13.
Kentucky’s offense has been run-oriented since receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. took over at quarterback due to injuries at the position, and the Wildcats used the versatile athlete on the ground heavily. He finished with 114 yards on 26 carries.
The Wildcats’ running game was deadly in the first half, as Kentucky ended its 17-play, 85-yard opening drive with a 2-yard rushing touchdown by A.J. Rose. The drive took up a whopping 10:18 of game clock.
“Against us tonight, (Kentucky) got us in a little bit of a bind because they kept getting in 12 personnel and opening it up,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “So all of a sudden we got big guys out here on the field.
“We’re thinking they’re going to be in condensed, traditional formations and their guys are spread all over the field, so we didn’t have the right people. And then they ran the same run that they would run out of their 11 personnel or 10 personnel.”
The Vols loaded up on the line of scrimmage to stop the run, but Kentucky still accumulated 185 rushing yards in the first two quarters to take a 10-point halftime lead.
“Just too many unforced errors for really simple stuff,” Pruitt said. “It’s about as simple a game plan as you can possibly be because this is like playing the triple-option.”
However, the Vols, whose offense was stagnant in the first half, struck back with a strong passing attack, as Guarantano replaced starter Brian Maurer and completed seven of his eight passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. The most interesting part of that stat line? Guarantano had more touchdowns that incompletions across the board.
“I think (Guarantano is) mature,” Pruitt said. “He knows what we’re trying to do. He’s really smart. He done a great job tonight. He’s done a good job of coming off the bench all year that we’ve asked him to do it. I just think he’s a guy that he wanted to play well tonight and he did and he prepared during the week to do that.”
The Vols finished with 213 total passing yards. They had just 98 in the first half.
Senior wide receiver Marquez Callaway notched four catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, while junior Josh Palmer had 55 yards and one score on four receptions as well.
“Just getting back to our bread and butter,” junior offensive lineman Trey Smith said. “Just believe in ourselves and make sure we have the right assignments. (Callaway) is a heck of a player, making those plays when we need it.”
The passing attack sparked Tennessee’s offense enough for the Vols to take a 17-13 lead, which held taut when their defense stopped Kentucky on fourth down at the goal line late in the game.
When it came down to it, the Vols’ success through the air trumped the Wildcats’ strengths on the ground.
“Coach Tee (Martin) tells us (to) make our plays,” Callaway said. “Coach (Jim) Chaney, basically all the offense tells us, rather that’s the line to make their blocks, quarterbacks, running backs make their reads, and receivers make their plays, rather that’s receiving, blocking, rushing, whatever they ask us to do.
“So when the ball comes our way, we try to do what we can to make it easier for our offense and for our team.”