Photo by University of Tennessee Athletics (@Vol_Football)
By Tucker Harlin
LEXINGTON, Ky- No. 21 Tennessee (6-2, 3-2) outran Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) 33-27 in a turbulent shootout amid the fog at Kroger Field Saturday.
It was far from perfect, but the Vols’ win gave them bowl eligibility for the third consecutive season.
“I’m proud of the fight and the competitive nature of the football team,” said Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel. “We played for four quarters, we didn’t play perfect. There’s a lot of things we can get better at in every phase.”
The Vols got off the field on their first defensive series, and they threw a haymaker on their first possession. Running back Jaylen Wright ran in a touchdown from 53 yards out to give the Vols a seven-point cushion.
The Vols took over on downs in Wildcat territory after stuffing a Ray Davis run on fourth down. A holding penalty on third down put the Vols in a place where they could not convert, so the Vols settled for a field goal.
Charles Campbell hit the 44-yard field goal, upping the lead to 10. It would be the first of four field goals Campbell would make on the night.
“Charles did a great job,” Heupel said about Campbell. “He’s a kid that grew up in Tennessee, he wanted to play with the power T on the side of his helmet. It’s an opportunity for him and his family to represent the university.”
The Wildcats hit on several passes on their next drive that put them in the red zone, but ultimately the drive stalled out. Alex Raynor knocked in a 28-yard field goal, making it 10-3.
The Vols had yet another drive cut short because of a penalty on the offensive front. Campbell converted a 49-yard field goal to put the lead back at 10.
The Wildcats found the end zone on their next possession.
A drive littered with pass plays ended with a Barion Brown catch in the end zone for an 11-yard score, changing the score to 13-10. Wildcats quarterback Devin Leary threw for a season-high 373 pass yards against the Vols
The Vols fired back on the next drive.
A couple of productive runs from Wright had the Vols across the 50-yard line. Joe Milton unleashed a 39-yard pass to a wide-open Chas Nimrod in the end zone, once again bumping the Vols’ lead to 10.
“Awesome for a guy that is young in his journey,” Heupel said about Nimrod. “He continues to work hard every day, and he has the opportunity to be a dynamic playmaker.”
The Wildcats marched down the field for another scoring drive. Leary connected on several chunk pass plays with his receivers, and the drive was capped off by a Davis rush touchdown, shrinking the lead back to three.
With a little over a minute in the half, the Vols got into field goal range. A Ramel Keyton catch stood after review, and Milton found Squirrel White for 25 yards a couple of plays later. Campbell knocked through the 34-yard attempt, making it a 23-17 contest at the break.
After a pair of empty possessions, the Vols made it to the red zone for the first time in the second half.
An off-schedule throw from Milton to Dont’e Thornton put the Vols deep in Wildcat territory. The drive stalled outside the 10-yard line as the result of a pair of sacks.
Campbell had an assist from the right upright on the 35-yard attempt, and the Vols stretched the lead to 26-17.
The Wildcats answered once more as the connection between Leary and Dane Key yielded points.
The two connected for a 34-yard pass that put the Wildcats in the red zone. They capped off the drive with a 7-yard completion for a touchdown, cutting the Vols lead to two.
The Wildcats had a chance to take the lead following a Vols punt, but Raynor’s 53-yard field goal attempt was no good.
The Vols put together a 65-yard scoring drive that put the game out of reach for the Wildcats.
52 of the Vols 65 yards were racked up by Dylan Sampson. Sampson finished out the drive with a 12-yard rush touchdown that stretched the Vols’ lead back to nine.
“It’s what we all prepare for,” Sampson said. “This is what we prepare for at practice, just go out there and execute at a high level.”
The Wildcats entered the red zone one more time. A false start on third down soured the red zone trip and forced the Wildcats to take the point on fourth down, shrinking the Vols’ advantage to six.
Gradually, the Vols ran out the clock with a mixture of run plays from both Milton and Sampson on the final possession of the game.
The Vols return home to start November with a homecoming contest against Connecticut. The game will kick off at 12 p.m. ET and will air on SEC Network.