Jarrett Guarantano threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Callaway on the final play of the first half, Darrell Taylor recorded four sacks and Tennessee trounced No. 12 Kentucky 24-7 on Saturday. The Vols have won their past 17 home games against Kentucky, which hasn’t beaten UT at Neyland Stadium since 1984.
“I think the whole team felt very confident going into this game,” Guarantano said. “I know we were struggling last week (a 14-3 victory over Charlotte), but this week was different.”
Tennessee (5-5, 2-4) has reason to feel confident whenever it hosts Kentucky (7-3, 5-3, No. 11 College Football Playoff).
The Wildcats had ended one long run of futility earlier this season when they won 27-16 at Florida to snap a 31-game skid in that series. But Kentucky couldn’t reverse its history of frustration in Knoxville.
“I didn’t know nothing about the streak until yesterday,” Wildcats defensive end/outside linebacker Josh Allen said. “I wasn’t worried about no streak. I was worried about getting our next win and just go from there.”
Tennessee broke open the game by scoring two touchdowns in the last three minutes of the second quarter.
After Tim Jordan’s 3-yard TD run gave Tennessee a 10-0 lead with 2:56 left before halftime, the Vols forced a punt and got the ball back at their own 28-yard line with a minute remaining.
Tennessee initially appeared intent on running out the clock, but the Vols called a timeout after Ty Chandler’s 14-yard carry with 13 seconds left. Guarantano threw a 17- yard completion to Callaway that put Tennessee on Kentucky’s 39 with six seconds remaining.
Rather than trying a short, quick pass to set up a long field-goal attempt, Guarantano threw deep. Callaway was at the front of a crowd in the right side of the end zone when he snared the ball to give Tennessee a 17-0 halftime advantage.
“We were a little bit out of field-goal range, so we took a shot in the end zone,” Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “I thought Jarrett did a good job evading a little bit of rush there, stepped up in the pocket and made a good throw to give us a chance, and Marquez went up and got it.”
Guarantano was 12-of-20 passing for 197 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown to Dominick Wood-Anderson that extended UT’s advantage to 24-0 in the third quarter.
Tennessee is one victory away from bowl eligibility after going winless in SEC competition last year.
“I thought we were very prepared going into the game, but it showed on the field that we weren’t,” Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad said. ‘They were more hungry than us tonight for whatever reason.”
Kentucky’s only points came on Terry Wilson’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Conrad with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Benny Snell Jr., who entered Saturday as the SEC’s rushing leader, ran for 81 yards on 20 carries but was held below 100 yards rushing for a third straight game.
Tennessee rushed 40 times for 215 yards.
ALL THE DIFFERENCE
The return of safety Micah Abernathy and Chandler made a difference for Tennessee. Abernathy was back after missing four games with an ankle injury and had seven tackles. Nagging injuries limited Chandler to two carries last week, but he ran 16 times for 89 yards Saturday.
A skirmish in the end zone after Jordan’s touchdown resulted in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for every player on both teams. This marked the second straight season that a Tennessee-Kentucky game included an incident that resulted in penalties for every player on the field.
Guarantano has thrown 146 consecutive passes without an interception. That breaks a school record formerly held by Casey Clausen, who threw 143 straight passes without getting picked off in 2003.
Chris Snead, a center judge on the officiating crew, was helped off the field and taken to an ambulance during the third quarter. SEC officials said after the game that Snead was taken to a hospital for evaluation.