Well, folks, the “Who Wants To Lose More Bowl” ended in sarcastically spectacular fashion after Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson leaped into the end zone on the end of an 11-yard run with 33 seconds left to put Kentucky on top. The Wildcats added a two-point conversion to make it a 29-26 lead, which carried to our final score.
Missed opportunities were the name of the game for the Vols. The orange and white recovered four Kentucky fumbles, winning the turnover battle 4-0, and started three drives inside of Kentucky’s 30-yard line. Those three drives ended in three Brent Cimaglia field goals.
Tennessee out-gained Kentucky 445-371, held possession for 38:25 to Kentucky’s 21:35 and took care of the ball while the Wildcats fumbled again and again.
Meanwhile, Kentucky gained eight yards a carry with 36 carries for 289 yards and all four of the Wildcats touchdowns. Kentucky sacked Jarrett Guarantano seven times, and it felt like Guarantano might be in more than one piece by the time the game was over.
At the end of it all, the Vols couldn’t figure out how to stop the combination of Benny Snell Jr. and Johnson on the ground. The two combined for 274 of the Wildcats’ 289 rushing yards, and while the Vols bottled up some early-down runs, longer drives led to more and more success as Mark Stoops’ squad kept pounding at Tennessee’s defensive front.
Tennessee’s offense disappeared yet again, and the Vols’ doom once again came from a lack of red zone touchdowns. Cimaglia had six field goal attempts on the night, one of which came after a Tennessee possession marched all the way down to the Kentucky 1-yard line.
Kentucky gave Tennessee chance after chance after chance to walk out of Lexington with a win. Tennessee started nearly as many drives in Wildcat territory as it did in its own half, yet managed just two touchdowns. The Vols had a potential 80-yard touchdown run called back for holding in what would have been Ty Chandler’s first career rushing touchdown, then moved backwards from Kentucky’s 1-yard line into a field goal after penalties and a sack.
Speaking of Chandler, why hasn’t he been more involved? The freshman was electric with any kind of space, showing he has just as much of a knack for hard contact as the absent John Kelly does. His speed bursts have been contained because who-knows-why, and his future is bright on Rocky Top.
Once again, Tennessee failed to counter an opponents’ adjustments to keep an advantage. The Vols stretched far and wide for running lanes early to get Chandler and Carlin Fils-aime going, but when Kentucky adjusted to key in on the run, Tennessee found very little offensive success.
Guarantano’s running ability kept the Vols moving on the ground, but Tennessee never had a drive go farther than 44 yards in the second half before the last-second Hail Mary attempt (that was caught and downed at the 3-yard line). Butch Jones isn’t beating coaches in-game. It’s becoming blatantly obvious.
Despite scoring two (under-center) touchdowns on Saturday night, the Vols lost to Kentucky for the second time since 1984. The last Tennessee loss to the Wildcats began the end of a head coach, this loss should simply be the end of one.
With Florida’s Jim McElwain potentially on the chopping block after unsubstantiated death threat claims and a 42-7 loss to Georgia, John Currie is undoubtedly watching the Gators carefully. If they make a move on McElwain, Currie might be inspired to do the same with Jones, if only to not lose ground on candidate interviews.
However, that shouldn’t even be the deciding factor. Tennessee lost to Kentucky after winning the turnover battle 4-0 and giving up eight yards a rush. The Vols’ offensive line, a group heralded in the preseason for its experience and potential prowess, gave up seven sacks and battered a young quarterback who seemingly might not survive the season in one piece.
Tennessee is 0-5 in SEC play for the first time since 2012, Derek Dooley’s final year. The Vols are staring a fight for a bowl game in the face, and with an offense still struggling to score touchdowns, might be hard-pushed to make the six-win requirement.
This isn’t what Butch Jones was hired to do at Tennessee. It isn’t what any coach would be hired to do in Knoxville. Elite coaches rebuild around their developing recruits. At Tennessee, it doesn’t look like Jones is going to win anything without Josh Dobbs at quarterback. Dobbs isn’t walking into the locker room to suit up ever again, and Jones shouldn’t either.
It’s time to start a new era. One that doesn’t include losses to Kentucky or 15-quarter streaks without a touchdown. Tennessee deserves better than that.