Knoxville, TN – Tennessee sophomore running back Eric Gray rushed for a season-high 128 yards, but four first-half turnovers by the No. 18/17 Vols were too much to overcome in a 34-7 loss to Kentucky Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
Gray posted his second 100-yard game of the season and third of his career. He ran for 105 yards vs. Missouri on October 3rd and had his best day as a Vol last season on November 30th vs. Vanderbilt with 246 yards against the Commodores. He ended up with 24 carries vs. UK on Saturday, finishing one short of the career-best 25 attempts he had vs. Vandy. Defensively, UT was led by linebacker Quavaris Crouch, who was in on a career-high 11 stops.
The Vols fell to 2-2 on the year, while Kentucky evened its record at 2-2 after opening the season 0-2.
The Wildcats snapped a string of 17-straight Vol home wins in the series that dated back to 1986. UT will play host to second-ranked Alabama next Saturday at 2:30pm CT with CBS televising the contest.
Kentucky jumped on top 17-0 in the second quarter despite its offense moving past the 50-yard line only once in the first half. It was the Wildcats’ defense putting all of those points on the scoreboard in a span of six-and-a-half minutes, capitalizing on three Vol miscues and turning two of them into scoring plays.
UK struck first with 12:47 to go in the second quarter. Cornerback Kelvin Joseph jumped a sideline route, picking off a Jarrett Guarantano pass and returning it 41 yards for a touchdown. Matt Ruffolo’s PAT attempt was good, providing the Wildcats with a 7-0 advantage.
The Cats turned another Tennessee turnover into immediate points just over two minutes later. With the Vols driving deep into enemy territory, Guarantano’s first-down pass attempt was snared by Kentucky middle linebacker Jamin Davis and taken back 85 yards to the end zone. Ruffolo’s extra point put UK up 14-0 with 10:33 remaining in the second stanza.
J.T. Shrout came on in relief of Guarantano for a series, and Kentucky produced another turnover on the redshirt sophomore’s first pass attempt. Strong safety Tyrell Ajian collected the third interception of the day for his team, setting up the visitors at the UT 37. UK drove to the Vols’ 12 before settling for a 30-yard Ruffolo field goal with 6:18 left in the half.
Tennessee’s offense delivered a much-needed scoring response with 1:36 to go in the first half. Running back Ty Chandler’s four-yard touchdown burst up the middle capped a 14-play, 75-yard drive for the home team. Brent Cimaglia added the PAT try to cut the Kentucky lead to 17-7 with 1:36 remaining in the half.
UT’s four turnovers allowed the Wildcats to carry a 10-point lead into the locker room, despite the Vols holding a 203 to 75 advantage in total yardage, including 120 to 28 on the ground. Gray led all rushers in the first half with 101 of those yards on 18 carries.
Kentucky finally generated some offensive points with 7:24 to go in the third frame. Quarterback Terry Wilson hit Allen Dailey in the corner of the end zone from one yard out, capping an 11-play, 76-yard drive. Ruffolo added the extra point to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 24-7.
UK tacked on three more points with 1:02 left in the third. Ruffolo was accurate from 27 yards out for his second field goal of the afternoon to make it 27-7.
Kentucky closed the day’s scoring early in the fourth. Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. punched it into the end zone from two yards out with 10:54 remaining, finishing a seven-play, 54-yard drive that covered three minutes and 58 seconds. Ruffolo tacked on the PAT to push the Cats’ lead to 34-7.
Tennessee freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey made his college debut with 10:48 left in the game, driving the Vols to the UK 10 before the Big Orange turned it over on downs.