THAT JUST HAPPENED: Water is wet, sugar is sweet, and Tennessee defeats Kentucky in Knoxville.

Tennessee defeats 11th-ranked Kentucky 24-7 to get second top 25 win of the season

Jeremy Pruitt smiles during his opening press conference • photo by Rusty Odom

In 1984, the Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Tennessee Volunteers at a game of football in Knoxville. Certainly, that incarnation of the Cats couldn’t have known exactly how special that win was for UK. Fast-forward 34 years, and reality is still waiting to see it happen again. Kentucky has won twice, but only in Lexington, and both times against floundering coaches. Yet, even among the trash coaches Tennessee employed over the last decade, nobody lost to Kentucky in Knoxville. In 2018, Kentucky has been on a wildly magical run, ranked eleventh and quite nearly won the SEC East. Because of these things, nobody could’ve been prepared for the lowly, rebuilding Vols to absolutely face-smoosh this Kentucky team, but life comes at you fast! Here are the hot points!

#WGWTFA2018: On their way to the field at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016, a reporter asked Vols DL Darrell Taylor what was going to happen, and he thrust himself into UT lore forever by accurately predicting that “We gon’ whoop they…” which spawned the wildly popular abbreviation WGWTFA. Taylor has had some low-key spells in his career, but against UK, he was as brutal as we’ve ever seen him, including 7 tackles and 4 sacks. Taylor’s 4 sacks on Terry Wilson was just 0.5 sacks off of Tennessee’s single-game record of 4.5, held by Corey Miller. Fun Fact: that 4.5 game was also against Kentucky.

SNELL NAH: Benny Snell is, no question, the greatest UK running back in history. The junior back is in the midst of a 1000+ yard, 10 touchdown season, and is averaging 108 ypg and 5 ypc. But in Knoxville, history was not on his side. Granted, UK’s offense has been crashing for three weeks, but Snell was absolutely removed from the plot in Knoxville. Even when the blue team, down and panicking, started feeding Snell on every play, Tennessee always seems to be prepared. After allowing South Carolina’s run game to steal Tennessee’s upset bid, seeing the Vols shutdown such an immensely talented RB was equal-parts inspiring and a relieving. Snell finished the day with 81yds on 20 carries.

STREAKIN’: It’s true that the most popular player in times of team adversity is the backup QB. And yes, every knee-jerk moment of offensive adversity in the 2018 season has been met with calls for Keller Chryst, on account of his stunning 2TD performance against Alabama’s reserves. Meanwhile, Jarrett Guarantano has quietly, humbly, broken an incredible record for a QB with a struggling OL. He’s now thrown 146 consecutive passes without an interception, and outside of the Florida game, has thrown none in 2018. In the legacy of Tennessee QB’s, a milestone like this can’t be taken lightly. Add it to JG’s consistent, thankless year, leading Tennessee to defeat multiple ranked opponents for the first time under a new head coach since Phillip Fulmer. It isn’t always pretty on his part, but this kid (again, only a RS sophomore), has endured nonstop physical punishment on the field and has barely missed a play.

FAIL-PATTERN BALDNESS: Saturday, Tennessee played a football game against the #11 team in the country, in storied Neyland Stadium. Add to that the fact that it was against a border rival, in the midst of their greatest season. Add to THAT the fact that a 34-year home winning streak in said rivalry was on the line. Lastly, add to that the fact that Tennessee, against heaping odds and adversity, was still within grasp of bowl eligibility and needed the win. Sound like a recipe for a rowdy, deafening sell-out? Yes. Was it? Hardly. Tennessee fans not only left stunning patches of the stadium bald, but (worse), the stadium was easily 25-30% blue. One of the major prizes of the Tennessee program is the endless love and relentlessness of VolNation. But when a ranked rival comes to town, you cannot let them take over your stadium. If you mean to reassume your role among the giants of college football, you can’t abandon the phase of the game (noise/intimidation) that you can actually control, especially in a rivalry game with post-season relevance. Perhaps the saddest circumstance in the whole thing is that, in a season desperate for joy, Tennessee came out and absolutely slobber-knocked a top-15 opponent anyways, at home, in what should’ve been a massive, blissed-out avalanche of (as-advertised) drunk, shrieking maniacs. Jeremy Pruitt caught a lot of flack in the spring for asking why there weren’t more fans at the spring scrimmage, but it’s more than fair to wonder: if you can’t show up when it’s free and then you can’t show up when it matters, is this such a wildly passionate fan base? At least don’t sell your tickets to the bad guys. With one home game left in 2018, and achievements still in scope, Tennessee fans should pack out the Missouri game next week. Speaking of..

BOWL GOAL: With Saturday’s stunner over #11 Kentucky, Tennessee is now in position to reach bowl eligibility, which seemed like a pipe dream many times in 2018, with a regime change, a young team and a brutal schedule. To get here, Tennessee needed to knock off a pair of top-20 opponents, overcome the loss of leader Trey Smith and gut through a few blowouts and a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina. And they did. The final hurdle is that they must beat either high-scoring Missouri in Knoxville next week or chippy rival Vanderbilt on the road in the regular season finale. Neither game will be easy, and both teams will line-up some strength-on-weakness. The big factors in each game are similar: Tennessee needs to continue taking care of the ball, the defense must build on this weekend’s performance, Tennessee fans must weaponize the environment, and the schemes must stay aggressive. One or both of these games should be well within reach, and taking Tennessee immediately back to bowl eligibility so soon, in spite of these hurdles, would be a glowing, blinding endorsement to recruits for the direction Pruitt is taking this program.

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