LEXINGTON, Ky. — Tennessee football dropped its fourth straight game and social media rumblings are that Coach Butch Jones should be expelled from his position.
The Vols lost to Kentucky 29-26 despite forcing four turnovers and committing none themselves, missing two field goals and allowing the Wildcats to drive 72 yards on 10 plays in the final minutes for the game-winning TD.
Tennessee’s offense progressed in QB Jarrett Guarantano’s third start to the tune of 445 yards to Kentucky’s 371, but the clutch plays were missing.
The Vols had suspended star tailback John Kelly, but the other backs performed well enough that there’s reason to believe he wouldn’t have made a difference for Tennessee.
The Vols also dominated time of possession (38:25-21:35) en route to posting statistical advantaged over the Wildcats in most categories save rushing yardage (289-203), penalties (9-54, 4-44) and on the scoreboard.
Tennessee Football Report Card
Jarrett Guarantano’s stat line reflected 18-of-23 passing for 242 yards, but he was also sacked 7 times and has yet to throw a TD pass in his first three starts. Guarantano gets extra credit for taking ownership, saying it’s his job to lead team to wins, but another loss and an intentional grounding keeps the grade down.
Running backs (A-)
Freshman Ty Chandler was excellent with 22 carries for 120 yards and 2 TDs and 2 catches for 33 yards — and had an 80-yard TD run called back. Sophomore Carlin Fils-aime also impressed, 12 carries for 73 yards. Freshman Tim Jordan had 3 carries for 11 yards.
Brandon Johnson led the way with 3 catches for 40 yards, while Jeff George had 2 catches for 59 yards including a 48-yard Hail Mary grab that left him 3 yards short of the end zone on the game’s final play. Tight end Ethan Wolf is healthy again and had 3 catches for 33 yards. A quiet night for Marquez Callaway, 2 catches, 16 yards. Josh Smith had a holding penalty that negated a TD run.
Offensive line (D)
Coleman Thomas snap infraction at 1-yard line led to field goal instead of TD, and Drew Richmond had two false start penalties. Richmond and Brett Kendrick were also called for not lining up on the line of scrimmage, negating a first down catch. The pre-snap penalties are not acceptable, according to Jones, but they persist.
Defensive line (C-)
Defensive tackle Kendal Vickers was strong with 5 tackles and a forced fumble, but other Vols weren’t as firm, as Kentucky romped for 289 yards. What Benny Snell didn’t rush for (27 carries, 180 yards), QB Stephen Johnson did (6 carries, 84 yards). Jonathan Kongbo had a forced fumble, and Darrell Taylor was credited with a QB pressure.
Missed alignments and gap responsibilities created big lanes for Kentucky runners. Daniel Bituli had a foolish ejection, allowing himself to get pulled into a post-whistle tangle with a reserve Kentucky player. Quart’e Sapp had a fumble recovery, and Elliott Berry had a fumble recovery.
Kentucky was held to 82 yards passing and Rashaan Gaulden and Nigel Warrior each forced fumbles. Gaulden, however, made the pivotal mistake of losing his composure and getting ejected and was not on the field to help the defense on Kentucky’s game-winning drive. Justin Martin had a pass interference that sustained the Wildcats’ opening scoring drive. Micah Abernathy dropped an interception.
Special teams (C)
Freshman Brent Cimaglia made three field goals (30, 24, 30), but he also missed two field goals (44, 43) that could have been the difference in the game. Punter Trevor Daniel averaged 37 on three punts and buried one at the Kentucky 5. Evan Berry returned but Kentucky didn’t kick to him, opting for shorter “pop-up” kicks.
Defensive plan was once again strong and forced four fumbles that gave the offense excellent field position. The offensive coaching is dismal, with a lack of discipline on pre-snap penalties, and a lack of execution at pivotal times. Tennessee adjusted and put the QB under center for two 1-yard runs, but not until after the shot gun set cost them a potential TD on an earlier drive.
Tennessee football is struggling, and if not for the great effort the players continue to put forth, this would constitute a failing grade. The players and coaches must circle the wagons and find an identity, or the Vols’ string of consecutive bowl appearances (3) will come to an end.