Tennessee football earned a 33-27 marquee road win over Kentucky on Saturday night at Kroger Field. The victory gave the Vols’ their first road win of the season and extended their winning streak to three over Kentucky.
Jaylen Wright Gets Tennessee Started
Tennessee’s offense has plenty of flaws this season. Scoring on opening drives isn’t one of them. The Vols started fast for the second straight week.
The Vols forced a three-and-out on the opening drive of the game then used a long touchdown on their opening drive against Kentucky for the third straight year. This time it was Jaylen Wright who broke a 52-yard touchdown run, breaking a number of tackles on the way to his longest touchdown of the season.
The fast start gave Tennessee a lead it never relinquished and scoring from long range was critical on a night where the Vols’ red zone struggles continued in Lexington.
Big Third Down Conversion Sparks Kentucky
Kentucky was reeling early as it failed to get a first down on either of its first two drives including a turnover on downs in its own territory.
The Wildcats found their footing a bit by holding Tennessee to a field goal after the turnover on downs and by following it up with a field goal of its own. However, Kentucky really made their major response two drives later
After two poor drives and a field goal drive Kentucky marched down the field using one chunk passing plays and a number of short, quick passes. The big play came on third-and-nine in Tennessee territory. Devin Leary found Dane Key on a deep out route to convert. The Wildcats scored their first touchdown of the game two plays later.
On a day where Kentucky threw the ball better than they have all season, it was still only one of two third down conversions over five yards. It also showed that this wasn’t going to be an easy win for Tennessee.
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Tennessee Steals Three Before Half
Josh Heupel emphasized the importance of every possession earlier in the week due to Kentucky’s slow tempo.
That proved true on Saturday night and made Tennessee’s drive to end the first half so critical. Tennessee took over leading by three points with 1:46 left in the half and all three timeouts.
The Vols decided they weren’t going quick which proved costly after two unsuccessful runs. But Milton made a huge play on third down, scrambling and hitting Ramel Keyton on the sideline for a 17-yard drive.
Milton’s 25-yard pass to Squirrel White proved to be the biggest of the drive. Tennessee could have taken one throw at the end zone but Heupel didn’t want to risk it, settling for a 34-yard field goal.
On a game where every possession and point was critical in how the game ensued, stealing three points before halftime was a big win for Tennessee.
Alex Raynor’s First Miss Of The Season
The latest example of how small the margins are in the SEC this season? For the second time in three games, Tennessee’s opponent has missed a long go ahead field goal in the fourth quarter.
This time it was Kentucky’s Alex Raynor, who hadn’t missed all season, pulling a 53-yard field goal for the lead wide left. The kick is easy and important to talk about but Kentucky throwing deep and having to settle for the 53-yard field goal on third-and-11 was just as big.
I don’t have to explain the importance of a go ahead field goal being no good, but its importance only increased with Tennessee’s ensuing touchdown drive.
Milton’s Game Sealing Run And Slide
I wrote at length about Tennessee’s game sealing four-minute drive last night so I’ll keep this section brief. Tennessee faced third-and-seven at Kentucky’s 37-yard line with two minutes to play. Kentucky had two timeouts.
A, let’s say, three-yard run would have given Charles Campbell a 52-yard field goal try with roughly 1:50 left. A good kick would have all but put the game away. A miss would have forced Kentucky to go roughly 60 yards in 1:45 with one timeout. Not easy but possible on a night Kentucky was throwing the ball well.
Instead that was meaningless. Milton moved the sticks on a quarterback keeper and smartly slid in bounds to keep the clock moving. That decision, combined with a 10 second run off due to an injury, meant Tennessee didn’t have to get another first down.
Milton’s run and slide proved to be the game sealing play.