Tennessee entered Saturday’s game against Kentucky with SEC East title hopes on the line.
While folks in Knoxville are keeping a close eye on the scoreboard in Gainesville these days — Tennessee needs the Gators to lose one more SEC game in order to make it to Atlanta — the Vols had to handle their own business and win the three remaining games on the schedule. On Saturday afternoon, Tennessee started its crucial three-game stretch on the right foot by beating Kentucky 49-36 inside Neyland Stadium.
Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s game.
Joshua Dobbs, the Kentucky killer
Next year when the Vols and Cats square off in Lexington, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops will be ecstatic to see Joshua Dobbs is no longer Tennessee’s starting quarterback. Throughout Dobbs’ career at Tennessee, he has scorched the Kentucky Wildcats.
Saturday was no different for Dobbs. The senior quarterback carved through the Wildcat defense on the ground, rushing for 147 yards and a pair of scores on 14 carries. Through the air, Dobbs was 11 of 17 for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Although he did have an interception on a ball that he tried to force into double coverage, Dobbs finished with an exceptional total QBR (Quarterback Rating) of 96.4.
After Saturday’s win over Kentucky, Josh Dobbs is now 4-0 against Kentucky in his career. In those four games, he’s completed 60 of 93 passes for 952 yards and 10 touchdowns. On the ground, he’s rushed 38 times for 298 yards and six touchdowns.
Tennessee’s new dynamic running back duo
Tennessee’s running back combination of Alvin Kamara and John Kelly is as good as it gets. Just ask Kentucky. On Saturday afternoon, the dynamic duo combined for 232 yards on the ground. The impressive outing was the second time this season in which the Kamara-Kelly duo combined for more than 200 rushing yards, the first (216 combined yards) coming against Texas A&M earlier in the season.
After missing two games due to a knee injury, Kamara led the duo with 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns. On Kamara’s 10 carries, he averaged a staggering 12.8 yards per carry. Kamara had zero rust from his knee injury, stepping right back into the starting roll and picking up where he left off. The other half of the duo, Kelly, rushed for 94 yards on 16 carries.
With Kamara and Kelly complementing one another, it begs to ask why former Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd was receiving more carries throughout the first eight games. It’s hard to find a reasonable answer to the question, but it doesn’t matter anymore because the Vols have found their running back duo of the present and immediate future.
Tennessee’s rush defense
Tennessee’s rush defense desperately needs help. Kentucky thrashed Tennessee on the ground on Saturday, rushing for 443 yards against an injury depleted Vols front seven. Entering the game, teams that had rushed for 400 yards in a game were 30-0. Had Tennessee’s offense not been in rhythm on Saturday, Kentucky would have made that record 31-0.
The 443 rushing yards allowed by Tennessee on Saturday were the third most given up in program history. Entering the game, Tennessee had been giving up 191.7 rushing yards per game. That average sky-rocketed on Saturday after Kentucky’s “Boom” Williams rushed for 127 yards, Jojo Kemp rushed for 90 yards and Benjamin Snell Jr. rushed for 79 yards. Five Kentucky players rushed for over 70 yards against Tennessee on Saturday afternoon.
Yes, the Vols are decimated with injury up front, but giving up 443 rushing yards is never acceptable. With a couple of good running backs coming up on the horizon, Tennessee desperately needs to bandage its rush defense up.
Tennessee’s secondary received a major boost when three key contributors returned from injury. Cam Sutton, Malik Foreman and Micah Abernathy all returned to play and made immediate contributions.
In All-SEC cornerback Cam Sutton’s first game back after fracturing his ankle earlier in the season, he stepped right in and made several key plays in the passing game. He recorded two pass breakups, becoming Tennessee’s all-time record holder for pass break ups with 36. Malik Foreman had an impressive pass break up on a deep ball, while Micah Abernathy flew around the field racking up a team leading 10 tackles and a tackle for a loss.
With several key contributors back in action in the Tennessee secondary, the Vols’ pass defense should again be a key ingredient to the success of the Tennessee defense going forward.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Sumner Gilliam