On 4th & Goal with 1:24 left in the game, Tennessee’s defense snuffed out an option look by the Wildcats to regain possession with a 17-13 lead. On a pivotal 3rd down, veteran QB Jarrett Guarantano rolled out and rushed for the four yards needed for a first down. UT took a couple knees and the clock struck zero. Just like that, one of the worst starts to a season in school history had evolved into a 5-5 start with bowl eligibility firmly in sight.
Credit Kentucky in this one. They jumped all over the Volunteers to the tune of 13-0 lead early in the game. They implemented a wishbone look that was tough to stop before UT was able to adapt and slow down the rush heavy offense. They finished the game with 302 rushing yards as a team, but only 25 in the air with an interception in only seven attempts.
The real heroes for the Vols came on the defensive side of the ball. UT gave up 13 points in the first quarter only to pitch a shutout the rest of the way. Early on, the game had the same feel as the terrible loss to Georgia State. Kentucky’s offensive line was having their way and Kentucky was able to methodically move the ball down the field while burning large chunks of clock. After the first quarter, UT seemed to become comfortable with stopping the option offense.
Brian Maurer got the nod as the starting QB on Saturday, but the offensive unit as a whole couldn’t find their footing. They were only able to muster three points in the entire first half. Jeremy Pruitt shocked most as he openly stated he was going to Guarantano after the halftime break. JG came out firing and led an immediate touchdown drive culminating in a jump ball to Marquez Callaway in the endzone to make the score 13-10 Kentucky.
The UT defense stood tall directly after the score and were able to to give the ball back to JG and the offense. Guarantano led another nice drive that ended with a beautiful catch by Josh Palmer in the endzone for a touchdown to push the Vols up 17-13. That would ultimately be the final score as both defenses bent but didn’t break for the final quarter and a half.
Tennessee is staring a possible 7-5 season square in the face. Which is absolutely positively insane considering the week 1 & 2 losses to Georgia State and BYU. It hurts fans everywhere to imagine a nine win season would be in play if the team wouldn’t have been upset, but that’s neither here or there at this point in the season.
UT has a match-up with bumbling Missouri in two weeks following a bye week. This should be a game very similar to Kentucky in that both teams will be starving for a win. I expect Kelly Bryant to be back taking snaps for the Tigers which should make things even more interesting. Missouri is currently 5-4 with a meeting against Florida standing in the way of themselves and Tennessee.
Tennessee’s final game of the season comes against Vanderbilt who is reeling after being shutout by Florida 56-0. Many would hope Tennessee can at least pull this one out against their in state rival who currently sit at 2-7 overall for the year. But as the last few years have proven, nothing is guaranteed in that rivalry.
Bowl eligibility seemed like an afterthought following UT’s 1-4 start with plenty of quality opponents left on the schedule. Credit has to go to Jeremy Pruitt and his coaching staff. They trimmed the fat and found the guys who were bought into the idea of winning as a team. Tennessee could possibly be looking at an eight win season, and there isn’t a fan in the Knoxville area that is upset with that.