Photo by Keyli Chisesi (Go Big Blue Country)
Gutsy. That is the word to describe Kentucky’s 29-26 come from behind victory vs. Tennessee on Saturday night. Despite four turnovers and being outgained 445-371, the Wildcats picked up a win vs. Tennessee for just the second time in 34 years.
Often times in history, Kentucky finishes on the wrong end of games like Saturday. Tennessee ran 26 more plays and held possession for nearly 17 minutes longer but the Wildcats rushed for a total of 289 yards and 4 touchdowns to emerge victoriously.
Earlier this week, Benny Snell Jr. guaranteed a 100-yard rushing game. The sophomore running back turned in his worst performance at Mississippi State but bounced back with 180 yards and 3 touchdowns vs. the Volunteers, including a key 2-point conversion reception to give the Wildcats a three-point lead with 33 seconds remaining. Snell fumbled on the opening play of the game but give him credit, he put it behind him and powered the Wildcats offense.
The story of the night was the play of quarterback Stephen Johnson, who only completed 6-of-15 passes for 46 yards. It wasn’t his arm that won the game; it was his heart and determination.
During the 3rd quarter, Johnson’s 34-yard run sent him to the locker room after landing awkwardly on his left shoulder. The UK signal caller spent a few moments in the locker room but eventually stormed out of the tunnel to a roar from the fans. Thankfully, he did, as he was instrumental in leading the game-winning drive late in the 4th quarter, capped off by his 11-yard touchdown run that ended up being the winning score.
After the game Mark Stoops had three words to describe Johnson’s performance, “Stephen was amazing.” Despite limited success through the air, Johnson carried the ball six times for 84 yards while carrying the Wildcats to victory in the process.
Defensively, the Wildcats bent but they never broke. The Volunteers played a man down without top rusher, John Kelly, who was suspended after being cited for marijuana possession Tuesday night in Knoxville. Tennessee was still able to rush for 203 yards but Kentucky’s defense stood tall in the red zone.
At times, the defense missed tackles and gave up big plays, but it never allowed the knockout punch, despite the offense putting them in difficult situations. In total, the defense recorded 7 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Every time Tennessee had a chance to gain a two-possession lead, the Wildcats forced a field goal. Yes, the defense missed tackles, looked out of sorts at times, and failed to finish plays, but they didn’t crumble.
The victory gives Mark Stoops his first SEC East win vs. a team that is not Missouri, South Carolina or Vanderbilt. It is only the second time in 34 years Kentucky has defeated Tennessee. A gutsy performance clinched Bowl eligibility and the Wildcats have a chance to have their best season in 33 years.
The Wildcats move to 6-2 overall and 3-2 in SEC play. They return to action next Saturday at home vs. Ole Miss. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.