The last time the Cats won at Tennessee was when the original “Karate Kid” movie was in theaters.
1984 was a great year. Apple introduced the world to the MacIntosh computer, Michael Jackson’s Thriller became one of the biggest albums of all-time, and in the movie “The Karate Kid”, Daniel LaRusso won the All Valley Karate Tournament against Johnny Lawrence of Cobra Kai. There also was a football game played in Knoxville, Tennessee. If only Wildcat fans who watched the game that day would have known that another victory on the road against the Vols wouldn’t occur until Donald Trump became President of the United States, well maybe they would have savored that victory just a little bit more.
Let’s be honest. There were very few of us who thought that this would be the year that the streak of losses at Tennessee came to an end. After a string of recent painful losses to UT, and an 0-2 start to this season, many fans (including myself), had already given up hope that this game would result in anything except a loss. But Mark Stoops seems to always be at his best with his back against the wall and a chip on his shoulder. The Cats came into this game with an excellent game-plan, and executed it to perfection.
For the last 3 years, Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano has been the kryptonite to Mark Stoops and the UK defense. Which is kind of ironic because Jarrett Guarantano is also kryptonite to the Tennessee offense in any game not against Kentucky. In his career against Kentucky, Guarantano’s statistics are staggering: over 72% completion percentage, over 550 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions. Read that last statistic again: ZERO INTERECEPTIONS in 3 games against Kentucky. For his career, he has thrown 14 interceptions, and completed a less than stellar 61% of his passes.
So, call me a pessimist if I didn’t foresee 3 interceptions, 2 pick sixes, and 1 lost fumble on the Tennessee QB’s stat line for this game. We finally got to see the struggling Guarantano that every other SEC team seems to get to see week-in and week-out. If you had told me before the game that he would throw 2 passes that would result in a 41-yard touchdown and an 85-yard touchdown, I would have assumed Kentucky suffered it’s 18th straight loss at Neyland Stadium. But amazingly, those touchdowns came in the form of interception returns for touchdowns by Kelvin Joseph and Jamin Davis. And even more amazing that they came on back-to-back possessions.
Those two scores had Kentucky up 14-0. However, Big Blue Nation knows not to celebrate too early in moments like this, because we also have another kryptonite: back-up quarterbacks. After seeing enough interceptions, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt put in second-stringer J.T. Shrout early in the second quarter to see if he could find more success against the Wildcat defense. We have seen this movie all too many times. Kentucky is in control of a football game, the other team puts in its back-up quarterback, and they proceed to play like Brett Favre.
When Shrout dropped back for his first pass, a little bit of dread crept over me. But the Kentucky secondary wasn’t about to let this same old movie play out. Instead, we got the Director’s Cut as Tyrell Ajian intercepted J.T. Shrout’s first and only pass of the game. While this play may get overlooked because of the great returns by Joseph and Davis, this one was equally important as it forced Tennessee to go back to Guarantano, despite the fact it was obvious the team had no confidence in him.
After taking a 17-0 lead on a Matt Ruffolo field goal, Tennessee kept itself within striking distance by closing out the first half with a 75-yard drive capped by a Ty Chandler touchdown run to make it 17-7. (Interestingly, of those 75 yards, 71 came on the ground. Coach Pruitt clearly did not trust his QB to make plays).
Kentucky continued its dominance in the 3rd quarter, extending the lead to 24-7 on a touchdown pass from Terry Wilson to Allen Dailey, and then 27-7 on another Ruffolo field goal. Much like last week against Mike Leach and Mississippi State, I kept expecting at any moment for Tennessee to get it together and mount a comeback. But just like last week, UK’s defense wouldn’t allow it to happen. In another dominant performance, UK pitched a second-half shutout. At one point UT decided to give its third-string quarterback, Harrison Bailey a try, but to little avail.
This day belonged to the Cats. It belonged to Mark Stoops for ending yet ANOTHER streak that had haunted this program for 36 years. It belonged to Brad White and the UK defense who refused to listen to the critics who said this unit was overrated after giving up 42 points to Ole Miss. It belonged to the Big Blue Nation, to Rich Brooks, to Andre Woodson, to Billy Jack Haskins, to Lones Seiber, and all the others who suffered heartbreak at the hands of Tennessee. And perhaps most of all, this day belonged to Terry Wilson, whose starting job may have been on the line and he responded by completing 12 of 15 passes and a touchdown. As well as providing this kick-ass picture after the game: