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Vols defense delivers comeback win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Tennessee is one win away from bowl eligibility.

The Vols continued their season-saving turnaround with a 17-13 comeback victory over Kentucky on Saturday night at Kroger Field.

Tennessee's defense did not allow any points in the second half, and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano fueled a rally off the bench after the Vols (5-5, 3-3 SEC) trailed by 10 points at halftime.

Ja'Quain Blakely stopped Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. for no gain on fourth-and-2 with 1:17 remaining to seal the victory.

Tennessee needs only to beat Missouri or Vanderbilt to earn bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2016 season. A bowl hardly seemed like a realistic conclusion to this season after Tennessee opened the year with a stunning loss to Georgia State en route to a 1-4 start.

The Vols have won three in a row.

Kentucky (4-5, 2-5) fizzled after a dominant first quarter.

Here are five things we learned.


Tennessee’s supplied three clutch stops in the second half. Matthew Butler sacked Lynn Bowden Jr. on a fourth-and-6 from Tennessee’s 32-yard line in the third quarter.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Wildcats had fourth-and-3 from the UT 38. Bowden threw an incompletion.

Ty Chandler fumbled on the next play, giving Kentucky possession at Tennessee's 45-yard line. The defense held firm again.

The Wildcats reached the 1-yard line before Henry To'o To'o stuffed Chris Rodriguez for a 1-yard loss on third down. Then Blakely kept Bowden from gaining any traction on a speed option run.

Coach Jeremy Pruitt decided to make a quarterback change with the Vols trailing 13-3 at halftime, turning to veteran Jarrett Guarantano after freshman Brian Maurer started for the fourth time this season.

Guarantano led Tennessee on back-to-back touchdown drives to start the second half. Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer each made challenging touchdown catches on fade routes.

Guarantano has appeared in relief in victories over Mississippi State, South Carolina and UAB. Given how well he played Saturday, Pruitt might need to reconsider Guarantano for the starting job. Guarantano, who has 22 career starts, hasn’t started since a Sept. 21 loss to Florida.

Guarantano was 7-of-8 passing against the Wildcats for 115 yards. He added 30 rushing yards.

Maurer completed 7 of 16 passes in the first half for 98 yards. Maurer played for the first time since an Oct. 19 game against Alabama, when he suffered a concussion for the second straight game.

Tennessee trailed 13-0, and it had snapped just three offensive plays. Kentucky started the game with a 17-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up 10 minutes, 18 seconds. The Wildcats had 15 runs and two passes during the drive.

The Vols followed with a three-and-out. Punter Paxton Brooks dropped a snap, and Josh Paschal blocked the punt. Two players later, the Wildcats were in the end zone with their second touchdown.

Bowden was trying to become the second Kentucky wide receiver-turned-quarterback to lead the Wildcats to a victory over Tennessee this decade. Matt Roark played that role in UK’s 10-7 victory in 2011.

Like Roark, Bowden is a former high school quarterback. He showed his speed and elusiveness as a runner on speed option plays and scrambles from the pocket.

Bowden rushed for 114 yards on 24 carries, leading a Kentucky ground attack that amassed 302 yards.

However, Bowden didn't pose much of a passing threat – he completed 4 of 7 passes with an interception – and at times Kentucky’s offense was exposed as a one-trick pony.

The Vols’ defense got sucked in expecting a run when Bowden floated a pass to tight end Justin Rigg during the second quarter. A good throw would have resulted in a touchdown and a 20-3 lead. Bowden underthrew Rigg, and Nigel Warrior intercepted the pass.

Warrior raced down the field into the end zone, but a video review showed he stepped out of bounds at UT’s 46-yard line.




Tennessee is one win away from a bowl bid after beating Kentucky 17-13 on Saturday night.


The Vols couldn’t convert the turnover into points, logging its third three-and-out on five first-half possessions.

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A real grinder. When gut check time came the Vols proved they weren't going to be denied. Sloppy? Yes, throughout. But in the end they made the plays that won the game.




Saturday's Tennessee-Kentucky game might have been a disaster, but it was a beautiful disaster for the Vols.
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