RECAP: Cats end Rocky Top blues
Kentucky has knocked down another long-standing door under Mark Stoops.
The Wildcats earned their first win at Neyland Stadium since 1984 on Saturday, thrashing No. 18 Tennessee 34-7 at Neyland Stadium.
Defense led the charge for Kentucky (2-2), picking up where it left off last week with six interceptions in a 24-2 win over Mississippi State. The Cats picked off three more passes against the Volunteers, returning two of them for touchdowns in building a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
"I definitely feel like our defense is getting sharper," Stoops said. "You could see signs of that in the first two games, but we hadn't been nearly as consistent as we have been in these last two. Obviously, creating turnovers has been very big for us and very helpful to the outcome of the games, but we've just played cleaner overall. I feel like we're getting closer."
Sophomore cornerback Kelvin Joseph and junior linebacker Jamin Davis had pick-6 plays within five snaps of each other against Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano early in the second quarter.
"I thought I was about to pass out," Davis said of his 85-yard interception return for a score to make it 14-0. "I was like, geez, this is a pick-6, I might as well go get it. I just ran my balls off and made it. I hope my momma proud of that one."
The Volunteers pulled Guarantano in favor of J.T. Shrout on the next series, and UK defensive back Tyrell Ajian recorded the Cats' third interception in eight snaps to set up a 30-yard field goal by Matt Ruffolo.
"The first maxim," UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. "The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. Pretty simple."
Tennessee (2-2) pulled within 17-7 at the half, but the UK defense delivered a three-and-out to start the third quarter, and the UK offense drove 76 yards to extend the lead to 24-7 on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Terry Wilson to Allen Dailey Jr.
Another field goal by Ruffolo and a 2-yard touchdown run by Chris Rodriguez helped put the game away in the fourth quarter.
"We were so excited to come here and get the W," Davis said. "We were so tired of coming here and leaving empty-handed."
Wilson, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown while adding 32 yards rushing, became the first UK quarterback to win in Knoxville since Bill Ransdell led a 17-12 victory in 1984. He now joins Derrick Ramsey as the only UK quarterbacks to ever win at both Neyland Stadium and The Swamp in Florida.
"It's special. I know it means a lot to this state and the university," Wilson said. "... It's huge. Derrick Ramsey, that's some great company to be with in that category. It's pretty fun to go do some things that haven't been done in recent years. That's one of the main things I wanted to do in coming here, going on the road and beating those teams that we haven't in a while."
In this Cats Illustrated "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the UK victory…
Another heinous UK Football streak has met its demise. No longer must Big Blue Nation have to think about MTV, parachute pants, Tetris, and the Reagan Administration when looking back on its last winning trip to Rocky Top.
A pretty good showing all the way around for the Cats, but you'd like to see Keaton Upshaw haul in that touchdown catch which could have made it 21-0 in the second quarter, and Josh Ali coughed up the ball after a short catch for UK's lone turnover on the day.
Tennessee showed the frustration of dropping its first game at home to Kentucky in 36 years when receiver Ramel Keaton kicked UK linebacker J.J. Weaver in the groin after Weaver made a nice tackle for loss in the second half. There was also a brief skirmish near the end zone as UK was driving for a score and had lineman Luke Fortner go down with an injury. Not the best showing for the Vols in many ways on this afternoon.
Jamin Davis, Kentucky -- The Cats' junior inside linebacker spearheaded the great defensive effort with a team-high 12 tackles and an interception returned 85 yards for a touchdown.
BY THE NUMBERS:
+1 - Kentucky has already surpassed its 2019 team interception total (8) through the first four games of 2020.The Cats have nine the last two weeks.
2 of 12 - Tennessee's third-down conversion rate against the UK defense. The Cats were 6 of 12 against the Vols' defense.
7 - The fewest points the Cats have allowed to the Vols in Knoxville since shutting out UT in 1976.
9 - Fewest combined points allowed to SEC opponents in back to back weeks since November 13th and 20th, 1976, vs. Florida and at Tennessee.
10 - Penalty yardage on the day for the Cats, who were flagged only one time.
27 - Biggest margin of victory for UK over UT since a 56-0 win in 1893.
187 - Rushing yards for the Cats, led by 73 from Chris Rodriguez.
1973 - The last time UK defeated an AP ranked team (No. 14 Tulane) by as many as 27 points.
"Early in the season, we had some tough losses, but it wasn't for a lack of effort. Our guys have had the right attitude, we've cleaned things up, and we've seen what we can do when we put it together and play good on all sides." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops
Kentucky returns to action next Saturday at Missouri. The game was originally scheduled for Oct. 31, but the league moved it up in making adjustments due to Covid-19 testing and postponed games at other schools. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. The Cats will now face Georgia on Oct. 31, a Noon ET kickoff at Kroger Field.