Tennessee dominates UK 52-21

By Josh Ellis

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Oct. 31 proved to be a scary site for UK football fans, as they watched their team get dominated in every facet of the game in Tennessee’s 52-21 victory over the Cats.

Tennessee kept UK from sparking any sort of momentum-building plays by answering them immediately with scores of its own, man handling the Cats on the offensive and defensive lines, getting better performances from its skill players and making the easy plays.

“It was not very good football. It’s not acceptable, it’s not okay,” said head coach Mark Stoops. “There’s a lot of things that we need to do better that we will. It starts with me, I’ve got to get do a better job getting the team prepared.”

For the first half of the game, the Cats seemed to be at least somewhat prepared for what Tennessee would throw at them, but in the second half UK had a total meltdown.

On its first drive of the game, the Vols faced a 4th and eight from the UK 32 yard line and kept its offense on the field, which resulted in a first down to keep the drive alive. Just when all the momentum seemed to be going Tennessee’s way, a Dobbs fumble was scooped up and returned 77 yards for a touchdown by defensive tackle C.J. Johnson.

Johnson’s score kept the Cats from playing from behind, as the Vols converted on four of seven third downs and continued to dominate on the offensive side of the ball with 144 total yards in the 1st quarter.

Tennessee answered with a 28-yard touchdown run by Dobbs, knotting the game at seven apiece with 2:45 left in the 1st. UK was fortunate to stay tied after one quarter of play, gaining just two total yards on 11 plays.

The tie was broken early in the 2nd quarter as the Vols strung together a 13 play, 38-yard drive that resulted in a 44-yard field goal by Aaron Medley.

Needing a spark on offense, Patrick Towles rallied the team to answer the Tennessee onslaught. Facing a 4th and five, Towles scrambled for a 21-yard gain to give UK its second first down of the game.

The Cats continued to march down the field, and concluded a 14 play, 75-yard drive with a Towles rushing touchdown and a 14-10 lead.

However, UK’s lead would last only 13 seconds. On the next play from scrimmage for Tennessee, Dobbs connected with Josh Malone for a 75-yard touchdown pass. Malone ended the game with four receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown.

After the 75-yard bomb, the Vols struck again just five minutes later. A 63-yard scamper by Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara took the Vols all the way down to the UK one yard line. Dobbs punched it in two plays later to give Tennessee a 24-14 lead heading into the half.

Saturday’s meltdown was the second straight week UK football had trouble closing the first half on a positive note, getting out-gained in total yards 327 to 117 in the first half.

“We got to manage it better. I’ve got to manage it better,” said Towles. “In those high intensity situations you’ve got to continue to make plays. It comes down to winning one on one battles and we didn’t do that tonight.”

The Vols picked up just where the team left off to begin the second half, driving down the field with ease and scoring a touchdown. The fourth Tennessee touchdown came off a screen pass to Jalen Hurd, who navigated through the UK defense and found himself in the endzone 37 yards later.

UK’s night continued in a downward spiral as Towles was intercepted just two plays later by Darrin Kirkland. Hurd’s touchdown run then stretched the Tennessee lead to 38-14. UK’s offensive line struggled to protect Towles, earning penalty after penalty in the second half.

“(Tennessee) is athletic upfront. I knew that we had to stay in some good situations and when we got out of those situations it was going to be tough,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.

UK’s next possession ended with a 39-yard touchdown reception by Garret Johnson, but was answered immediately by Tennessee, who wouldn’t allow the Cats to gain any momentum since the early fumble.

There was no better one-play description than a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Evan Berry coming right after a UK score. Every time the Cats seemed to have a glimpse of momentum Tennessee would immediately crush any hopes of a comeback.

As a real downpour or rain commenced during a UK punt with five and a half minutes in the 3rd quarter, the Tennessee downpour continued. Cameron Sutton returned the punt 84 yards for another Vols touchdown, giving the Vols a 52-21 lead.

Stoops said the only place the Cats have to go from here is up. UK, now 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the SEC, travel to Georgia next Saturday and finish its SEC slate Nov. 14 at Vanderbilt.

“The only way you make this feeling go away is to go get a victory. And go prepare the right way, go in with a tough mentality and go get a win,” Stoops said. “Go get number five. That’s the only thing we’ve got to concentrate on.”