KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s offense put up some big numbers while the defense gave up plenty of yards, but coach Butch Jones calls it a passing result.
The Vols (7-3, 3-3 SEC) kept their SEC East Division hopes alive with their 49-36 victory against Kentucky (5-5, 4-4) on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Here’s a look at how the positions graded out:
Josh Dobbs set UT’s school record for rushing TDs by a quarterback (now 27), piling up 138 yards rushing in addition to the 2 scores. Dobbs also went 11 of 17 passing for 223 yards with 3 TDs and an interception. Most of all, Dobbs made big plays at big points in the game.
RUNNING BACKS: A
Alvin Kamara made a successful return from his knee injury, rushing for 128 yards and 2 TDs on 10 carries despite being weighed down by a bulky knee brace. John Kelly continued his success with 90 yards on 14 carries. Both backs showed good ball security and were solid in protection.
Josh Malone stayed hot with 4 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Ethan Wolf was productive with 4 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. Jauan Jennings had a motion penalty, but also 1 catch for 19 yards. Freshman Tyler Byrd made 1 catch for 44 yards and Josh Smith broke wide open for his 24-yard TD catch.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
Jones was satisfied with this unit, which came together even with Dylan Wiesman getting knocked out of the game by injury. The Vols had 363 yards rushing and Dobbs had time to pass throughout the football game. False starts by Brett Kendrick, Jashon Robertson and Austin Sanders drop the grade.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
Corey Vereen delivered 2 sacks and Derek Barnett and LaTroy Lewis each had sacks, but the highlights were few and far between for the Vols’ banged-up defensive front. Lewis also made a key fumble recovery at the 4-yard line, but too many times the Wildcats backs found running lanes. Kendal Vickers incurred a silly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
What was once the most talked about defensive unit has become a disappointment, with Darrin Kirkland Jr. lacking the sort of punch many expected he’d bring to the middle. Kirkland Jr. looked slower than at the start of the year getting to the perimeter, too. Elliott Berry was assessed an unfortunate personal foul penalty for hitting a sliding quarterback.
The return of Cam Sutton, Micah Abernathy and Malik Foreman was good news, but it was a poor showing by Rashaan Gaulden and Todd Kelly Jr., both of whom missed too many tackles and played as though they were fatigued.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Jones was unhappy with the special teams, as Kentucky recovered an onside kick, Josh Smith fumbled away a punt and the kick returners combined to average just 14 yards per return. Trevor Daniel was a strength with 48.8 yards per punt, and Aaron Medley put 4 of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
It’s tough to keep a team this injured engaged, but Jones and his staff have been steadfast in making sure their players are fired up and focused on the goals ahead. Tennessee’s offensive game plan was masterful and provided more evidence that Mike DeBord knows how to keep an offense humming. Bob Shoop’s scotch-tape defense surrendered only 22 points through 56 of the 60 minutes, with the Wildcats scoring late after the Vols appeared to take their foot off the gas.