Tennessee Continues Backslide, As Wildcats Pounce

Kentucky’s defensive back Kelvin Joseph (1) intercepts a ball intended for Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman (4), and runs for a touch down, during the second quarter of a game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.

Just when you thought you’d seen the worst of the Tennessee offense last week in Athens, the Kentucky matchup was uglier.

Tennessee deferred the ball until the 2nd half, which actually might have been the best decision made today. Kentucky ended up going 3-and-out, punting it to Tennessee.

This is when things took a dark turn for the Vols.

Jarrett Guarantano had some sort of miscommunication with Ty Chandler and the two maybe collided to cause a fumble, which Kentucky recovered. This was the terrible start the Vols were trying to avoid. If you were hoping things would get better, you were sorely mistaken.

 

The Tennessee offense, led by Guarantano, threw two consecutive pick-sixes. Yep, you didn’t read that wrong, Guarantano threw two touchdowns to the opposing team on consecutive drives. A chorus of boos reigned down upon the field from the 22,519 Tennessee fans in attendance.

Jeremy Pruitt was asked who’s decision it was to bring it JT Shrout during his postgame press conference.

“That’s all of us, just trying to figure out what’s the best thing. If you look at it at that point right there, I don’t know how many snaps we had played, but we were moving the ball well. We went fast and didn’t get a guy blocked on the zone, so we had second-and-10. Then we threw a check down and dropped it. Then we give up a sack, which we don’t need to give up a sack. We need to throw the ball away. That knocked us out of field goal range. We come right back and have some positive plays and we knock the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. At that point in time, they really hadn’t stopped us. We kind of stopped ourselves. So, just kind of getting everybody settled back down (is important). Obviously, in the second half we had penalties and were behind the sticks for most of the half.”

Just as the crowd started to cheer, as JT Shrout entered the game for Tennessee at quarterback, he threw an interception and headed back to the bench. He was never seen again during the game, which was a bit surprising.

The Vols defense actually held Kentucky to 30 yards rushing and 47 yards passing in the first half. Kentucky didn’t care though, they saw the scoreboard and realized things were quite comfortable. It never felt like Tennessee was any closer to picking up a passing first down than actually scoring a touchdown.

Tennessee got agitated just enough that they put together a 14-play, 75-yard drive, that ended in a four-yard Chandler touchdown.

That would be the last time Tennessee scored any points. I know, it’s hard to believe.

The Vols punted on their next four possessions, while Kentucky scored two more touchdowns in the 2nd half and also one more field goal. Tennessee couldn’t find offense if it slapped them right in the face.

The 2nd half was a painful reminder for Tennessee fans just how far they have to go.

Now, it’s one big conundrum of who will lead Tennessee at quarterback against Alabama. But honestly, the way Tennessee performed today, it doesn’t really matter.

Jeremy Pruitt putting Guarantano back into the game so that he could just hand the ball off, was almost pointless.

The Tennessee offense rushed for 175 yards today. I said on Friday that I thought the Vols would win if they ran for 120 yards, and boy was I way off. Kentucky scoring 17 points off the four turnovers is actually impressive, especially if you include the two touchdowns Guarantano threw to the other team.

This was an all around horrible performance, you could have your pick at who to blame. It just didn’t feel this team was ready, maybe that’s just me. That was another depressing 2nd half of football for Tennessee, something that’s getting familiar.

This was a continued step in the wrong direction, especially for a group that could be so much better. I will say, there’s a lot more holding this team back besides the quarterback. Some of these players are just lost and it showed today. At times, this coaching staff looked lost today.

Pruitt said postgame that he was “undecided” on what he would do at the quarterback position next weekend. One thing is obvious, Brian Maurer doesn’t look to be a part of those plans. After Shrout turned the ball over, he went back to Guarantano.

“I would say it’s undecided. Right now, when you lose 34-7, I think everybody in our organization has got to look and see what went wrong. We could make changes at any level.”

In the fourth quarter, with ten minutes remaining, Harrison Bailey was inserted into the game. To the cheers of the remaining fans left in Neyland Stadium, Bailey pretty much jumped two other QB’s to get into the game. I think it’s pretty obvious now which two QB’s he would like to choose from.

When asked why he put in Harrison Bailey, Pruitt said it was all about game reps.

“There was an opportunity to put him in the game. He hasn’t had a lot of reps, as far as the game plan versus Kentucky, but it was a good chance to get him out there and let him and some of these other guys get some reps. I think that’s good. That’s good for him. He made one nice throw there and he’ll make better throws and he’ll do a lot more stuff as time goes on. He’s a hard worker and everybody in our quarterback room has got to work hard. We had some issues early on in camp that shouldn’t be there now, because we’ve had four weeks in a row where we’ve had everybody out there. We should be gaining steam offensively and we haven’t.”

Either way, Pruitt and this staff have a lot to work on, with a very short window before Alabama comes to town. This was a performance that could absolutely kill the season if they don’t have a good week of practice. This SEC season isn’t long enough to sit around and sulk, so Tennessee better buck up and do it quickly.

All Images courtesy of Tennessee Athletic Communications