LEXINGTON, Ky. – A goal-line stand on fourth-and-goal by the Tennessee defense sealed a 17-13 victory over Kentucky at Kroger Field on Saturday night.
After Tennessee stifled three consecutive Wildcat runs from inside the 6-yard line, Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. ran for the end zone on fourth-down and was stopped by the Vols’ Daniel Bituli and Ja’Quain Blakely with 1:17 remaining.
When the Vols got the ball back, redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano put the game away with a 10-yard run on third-and-four to allow Tennessee (5-5, 3-3 SEC) to run the clock out.
Led by Guarantano, Tennessee came back from a 13-0 first-half deficit to win. It was the largest deficit that a UT team has overcome to win since Sept. 4, 2017 against Georgia Tech. Guarantano came off the bench to start the second half under center and engineered back-to-back touchdown drives in the third quarter, completing his first seven passes in the process.
Marquez Callaway collected 104 yards and one touchdown through the air, his third 100-yard receiving game of the season. Josh Palmer had a season-high-tying 55 receiving yards and caught his first touchdown of the season.
The Tennessee defense held the Wildcats to 327 yards of total offense and 25 yards passing, while collecting a pair of sacks and an interception. Daniel Bituli led all players in tackles, tallying a season-high 19 stops.
Kentucky opened the game with an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took more than 10 minutes off the clock, capped off by an Asim Rose two-yard run. After blocking a Tennessee punt, UK scored again on a 22-yard run from Kavosiey Smoke. Vols defensive lineman Darel Middleton blocked the extra point attempt to keep the Wildcat lead at 13-0 with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
Tennessee’s first points came in the second quarter via an 11-play, 71-yard drive, capped by a Brent Cimaglia 26-yard field goal.
The Vols held Kentucky scoreless for the rest of the first half, as a Nigel Warrior interception halted a Wildcat drive near midfield. The interception was Warrior’s fourth this season.
After entering the game to start the second half at quarterback, Guarantano pieced together a seven-play, 75-yard drive, resulting in the Vols’ first touchdown of the game. Guarantano connected with Callaway on a 33-yard pass to move into Kentucky territory before the duo again hooked up on a 17-yard scoring pass to make it 13-10.
The defense followed UT’s scoring drive by forcing a UK three-and-out highlighted by a Darrell Taylor sack.
The next drive, UT would take its first lead of the night as Guarantano and Josh Palmer connected on a 12-yard touchdown pass to put the Vols up 17-13. Guarantano completed all five of his throws on the seven-play, 68-yard drive.
The defense then stymied UK for the second-straight drive. On fourth-and-six, Matthew Butler sacked UK quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. for a loss of six yards to give UT the ball.
After a quick possession by the Vols and with UK driving late in the fourth quarter, the Tennessee defense forced an incompletion on fourth-and-three to give the ball back to the offense.