2020 has made it seem like anything is truly possible. The Cats added another tack onto that reality with this afternoon’s milestone.
That’s right: Mark Stoops and company defeated arch-rival No. 18 Tennessee in Knoxville for the first time since the Reagan administration (1984). The 34-7 result ends the Cats 17-game losing streak on the road against the Vols, and represents the largest loss to an unranked opponent by a ranked team in Tennessee history.
“It’s special,” quarterback Terry Wilson said after becoming just the second UK quarterback to defeat both Florida and Tennessee on the road. “It really is special, and I know it means a lot to this state, to the University of Kentucky. I’m fortunate and I’m just glad to be in this position.”
The first half passing attack looked like its typical self, with Wilson recording a high completion percentage but not amassing many yards (47). The running attack also completely stalled once again, as the trio of Wilson, A.J. Rose and Chris Rodriguez totaling just 28 yards before intermission.
As the offense struggled, the Wildcat defense took the responsibility putting up points.
Early in the second quarter, Kelvin Joseph – lined up in man coverage – followed a crossing receiver the width of the field. Vol signal caller Jarrett Guarantano threw late outside the numbers on the play, allowing Joseph to leap in front and intercept the pass. Nobody stood between Joseph and the goal line as he took it 41 yards to give the Cats a 7-0 lead.
Tennessee looked to respond on its next drive, and worked deep into Kentucky territory. But the defense stepped up again. This time, Jamin Davis got his hands on a Guarantano pass, and took it a whopping 85 yards to paydirt.
Kentucky’s leading tackler for the second straight week, Davis started stumbling around the Vol 15-yard line, but was able to maintain his footing long enough to put the Cats up by two scores.
“I thought I was about to pass out,” he said. “I was just like ‘sheesh’, a pick six, might as well go and get it. Ran my balls off and I made it, hope my momma proud of that one.”
After that, Tennessee decided to make a quarterback change, throwing in redshirt sophomore J.T. Shrout. The results didn’t change though. On his first pass attempt, the ball found the arms of safety Tyrell Ajian for a third straight interception.
With the offense working to get things going, Stoops was very happy with how the defense carried itself over the opening 30 minutes.
“I thought it was really important… obviously, we’re doing some good things offensively but it’s a well-coached defense. It was going to be tough, so getting the pick six was big,” he said. “Obviously, it flips, it starts to put a little pressure on them and then they back it up and get another one… we’re on a pretty good roll with turnovers there for a while so, obviously that gives a lot of confidence to the team.”
With Guarantano back at the helm, Tennessee structured a 14-play drive right before the half ended that culminated with a Ty Chandler four-yard touchdown run, making it 17-7 at the break.
In the second half, Eddie Gran and the offense got back to its bread-and-butter. A steady dose of Wilson and Chris Rodriguez on the ground got the Cats into the red zone, and Wilson found Allen Dailey on a fade in the corner of the end zone to go up 24-7
“We knew we had some big opportunities with our run/pass options.” Wilson said. “We knew coming out at halftime that we had a big shot and could put some damage to them by doing that. It worked and we kept going to it… it was definitely a part of the game plan.”
The win gets Kentucky to .500 for the first time in 2020. Due to the scheduling changes announced yesterday by the SEC, the Cats will now head to Columbia next week to take on Missouri. Game time is set for 4:00 p.m. ET on SEC Network.