No. 18 Tennessee (2-2) self-destructed in the second quarter of their game against Kentucky (2-2) on Saturday, leading to a 34-7 loss to the Wildcats. The Vols’ lack of offensive production led to the benching of both starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and backup J.T. Shrout during the game.
The first quarter of the game saw no sustained drives by either team, as both the Vols and the Wildcats turned the ball over once and punted once. However, Tennessee’s turnover struggles truly began when Kentucky punted the ball back to the Vols at the beginning of the second quarter.
Guarantano threw a 41-yard pick to Kelvin Joseph that was returned for a touchdown. On the next drive, the redshirt senior threw an 85-yard pick-six when he under-threw a ball over the middle of the field and into the arms of Jamin Davis.
Down 14-0 in a game the Vols were supposed to win, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt benched Guarantano and put in backup J.T. Shrout. However, Shrout underthrew a receiver down the sideline on his first pass and was picked off. Kentucky capitalized on the turnover by kicking a field goal to go up 17-0.
The game script called for Tennessee to pass, but Pruitt turned to the ground game with Guarantano back under center. Eric Gray ate up almost five minutes of the clock while moving the chains down the field before Ty Chandler scored a 4-yard rushing touchdown. Neither team could make a play for the remainder of the half, and the Vols went into halftime down 17-7.
Pruitt blamed himself for many of Tennessee’s first-half errors, as he said there were numerous play-calling errors.
“On the route, we ran on 3rd-and-4, I’m not crazy about the call, to be honest, and that’s my fault. It’s nobody else’s but mine,” Pruitt said. “I just know that I’ve never been a big fan of throwing 35-yard out routes when you need four yards.”
Up big to open the second half, the Wildcats turned their stable of running backs loose on the ground. Sophomore power back Chris Rodriguez tore up the Tennessee front-seven for 73 yards and a touchdown. Kentucky’s mobile quarterbacks and running backs combined for 187 yards in the blowout. Kentucky also scored a short passing touchdown and a field goal to leave Neyland with a 34-7 win, their first in Knoxville since 1984.
“We had a perfect game plan,” sophomore Vol linebacker Henry To’o To’o said. “We’ve just got to execute.”
Tennessee struggled through the air, as Guarantano, Shrout and true freshman Harrison Bailey finished with 112 yards passing and three interceptions.
“I would say it’s undecided. Right now, when you lose 34-7, I think everybody in our organization has got to look and see what went wrong,” Pruitt said on who the starting quarterback would be going forward.
However, the Vols were able to pick up 175 total yards and a score on the ground, and Eric Gray rushed for 5.3 yards-per-carry.
“I actually thought today, from a physicality standpoint, we played better offensively running the football than we had in the previous games,” Pruitt said on the running game.
Next up, Tennessee will face Alabama on Oct. 24 in Neyland. Kickoff in Knoxville on Saturday is at 3:30 p.m.
Edited by Ryan Sylvia and Gracie-Lee Strange
Featured image courtesy of SEC Media Portal/WBIR