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5 Observations: Vols 24, No. 11 Kentucky 7

(Photo via Tennessee athletics)

For the second time this season, the Vols have upset a ranked opponent. This time, it happened in front of a home crowd in Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee (5-5, 2-4 SEC) took down No. 11 Kentucky(7-3, 5-3 SEC) by a score of 24-7 on Saturday afternoon. The Vols’ defense manhandled the Wildcats’ offense, and Tennessee’s offense found plenty of room against a usually stout Kentucky defense.

The Vols forced a couple turnovers, picked up five sacks (four by Darrell Taylor), and totaled nine tackles for loss against the Wildcats while holding them to just 262 yards of offense. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s offense picked up over 400 yards of offense.

Kentucky’s losing streak in Knoxville continues. The Wildcats still haven’t won in Neyland Stadium since 1984, and Kentucky never really made it close on the afternoon.

Here are our five biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s big win over No. 11 Kentucky.

Exciting Start

The Vols have been plagued by slow starts in most of their games this season. But that wasn’t the case at all on Saturday, and Tennessee put an exclamation point on the end of the first half too.

Tennessee led 17-0 at the half after a 39-yard Hail Mary pass from Jarrett Guarantano to Marquez Callaway as time expired. The Vols totaled 241 yards of offense in the first half, and Guarantano had a 21.9 yard per completion average on his eight completions in the first half.

Kentucky’s offense was stifled in the first half by UT’s defense. The Vols held the Wildcats to just 68 yards of offense and 2.1 yards per play. Benny Snell was held in check and had under 40 yards rushing in the first half.

The Vols needed a strong start against a ranked team at home, and they got just that on Saturday.

Shutting Down the Run Game

Kentucky was one of the SEC’s best rushing teams heading into Saturday’s match-up. But the Vols absolutely shut them down on the ground during the game.

Benny Snell was the SEC’s leading rusher before Saturday’s game, but the Vols held him in check for almost the entire contest. He finished with 81 yards on 20 carries, and Tennessee held the Wildcats’ vaunted rushing attack to only 77 yards on 35 attempts. Kentucky averaged a paltry 2.2 yards per carry. Tennessee, meanwhile, gained 215 yards on the ground on 40 carries.

Tennessee made Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson try and beat them, and while the JUCO transfer QB made some good throws, he wasn’t consistent enough to make a huge dent in the Vols’ defense. He finished 21-of-34 for 172 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.

Guarantano Breaks a Record

Jarrett Guarantano has been efficient all season, and he broke a record on Saturday.

According to Tennessee’s stats department, Guarantano broke UT’s school record for most consecutive pass completions without throwing an interception. He completed his 144th consecutive pass of the season in the third quarter without having a pass picked off, and he surpassed Casey Clausen’s record he set back in 2003 when he had 143 consecutive passes without throwing a pick.

Guarantano put together one of his better games of his career at Tennessee on Saturday, completing 12 of his 20 pass attempts for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

Big, Big Plays

Kentucky came into Saturday’s game only allowing 3.3 plays per game to opponents that went for 20 or more yards. The Vols obliterate that average.

Tennessee picked up 20 or more yards on seven different plays on Saturday. They had a run by Jordan Murphy go for 59 yards, a run by Ty Chandler gain 29 yards, and a run by Tim Jordan pick up 22 yards. Guarantano completed passes for 25, 34, 38, and 39 yards on the afternoon as well.

The Vols have struggled to consistently pick up a large amount of yards on offense this season, but they did it against Auburn earlier this season. And they did it again on Saturday against Kentucky.

Bowl Hopes Stay Alive

With the win, the Vols found a way to get to five wins on the season and are just one win away from qualifying for bowl eligibility with two games remaining on the season.

Tennessee improved to 5-5 through 10 games this season, and they have to defeat at least one of their final two opponents in the month of November to get to a bowl game. The Vols have games against Missouri in Knoxville and Vanderbilt in Nashville to close out the 2018 season.

Jeremy Pruitt would be the first Vols’ coach since Derek Dooley to get to a bowl game in his first year as Tennessee’s head coach if his team can make it this year.

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