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Tennessee Position Grades: Kentucky

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee beat the No. 11 team in the country on Saturday! Okay, okay, Kentucky probably shouldn’t have been ranked that high, but still, it was a good win for the Volunteers.

Here are the game grades by position group:

Quarterbacks: B+

Jarrett Guarantano deserves more credit from Vol fans than he has been getting lately. Sure, he hasn’t been slinging it for 400 yards a game. And sure, his high completion percentage can be a little misleading considering he doesn’t attempt to throw it downfield that often.

But, none of that makes him a bad quarterback. Bad quarterbacks don’t take care of the ball. And you better believe Guarantano has taken care of the ball this season. On Saturday, Guarantano set a new school record for most pass attempts without an interception, with 144 consecutive attempts.

Guarantano’s M.O. this season has been to throw for about 200 yards, get around two touchdowns, and don’t turn the ball over. That was exactly the kind night he had Saturday. So, an above average performance earns an above average grade.

Running Backs: B-

Running backs that can’t hold onto the football are always frustrating. Ty Chandler accounted for 89 yards rushing, but had a fumble. Tim Jordan accounted for 63 yards rushing, 41 yards receiving, and a touchdown, but also had a fumble. Fortunately, Kentucky’s offense wasn’t able to capitalize on these turnovers. Otherwise this grade would have been a lot lower.

Receivers/Tight Ends: B

Not an exceptional day from this group, but not a bad one, either. There were only 12 total completions after all. It will be interesting to see if Jordan Murphy gets more involved in the offense going forward after averaging 48.5 yards on two touches. Dominick Wood-Anderson and Marquez Callaway also contributed a touchdown, each.

Offensive Line: A-

This was easily the best conference game the offensive line has played so far this season. And it came against one of the better front sevens they’ve seen, yet. Some run plays were blown up early, but others had giant lanes opened up. Add in that Guarantano was only sacked once, and it was a pretty good day for the offensive line. It wasn’t necessarily a dominating one, but for finally being able to put together a complete game, their grade gets a slight bump.

Defensive Line: A

What a day for the entire defense. Alexis Johnson and Shy Tuttle managed to keep Kentucky’s run game from ever getting going up the middle. Tuttle also blocked a field goal and had a big sack late in the game effectively putting a stamp on the day. Kyle Phillips and Emmit Gooden also made their presence felt.

Linebackers: A+

As good as the defensive line was, the linebackers were just as good, if not better. Daniel Bituli led the way with eight tackles and three tackles for loss. Darrin Kirkland, Jr. also made his presence felt. But the MVP of the linebackers and the whole defense has to be Darrell Taylor, who had four sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. If he can find a way to contribute on a more consistent basis, he could really be something special.

Defensive Backs: A-

Sure, Kentucky wasn’t exactly known for their passing acumen going into the day. But, even then, the secondary had a solid day to match the rest of the defense. Marquill Osborne picked up his first two interceptions of the season in the fourth quarter and Micah Abernathy contributed seven tackles. Nigel Warrior and Abernathy were also good in run support. Add in a few drops from Kentucky receivers, and this unit managed to keep Kentucky’s passing game from ever really getting going.

Special Teams: B

Another group that had an average day. Brent Cimaglia made his only field goal attempt, while Joe Doyle was hot and cold. He downed one punt inside the five yard line, but out-kicked his coverage on another, allowing for a 15-yard return that could have been more. Tuttle/Johnson simultaneously blocking a field goal with what looked like their elbows was impressive. All in all, though, a solid day.

Coaching: A

Defensively, Tennessee’s coaching staff had to know going in that Kentucky was very close to being a one-dimensional offense. It obviously showed they did, considering Kentucky didn’t break 100 total yards until late in the third quarter. Offensively, conservative play-calling was a point of emphasis for fans everywhere. So obviously, Tennessee came out on the first play of the game and threw the ball deep downfield and drew a pass interference penalty on Kentucky.

Tyson Helton might have been trying to send a message. Granted, he got an ass-chewing from Jeremy Pruitt before halftime but, still, it was an overall good day for Helton. As for Pruitt, there was never any doubt on Saturday that this was his team. You could see it in the celebrations and the moments of frustration. Even more than that, you could tell that Tennessee was more prepared for this game than Kentucky. Hopefully, this game is a sign of things to come.

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