Imagine your worst nightmare for what Kentucky could have possibly done in their match-up with Tennessee. Somehow, what really happened is probably worse.
The Cats went down 17-0 at halftime thanks to a last-second hail mary score and a whopping one yard of offense in the second quarter. That ultimately proved to be too much to overcome, as Kentucky falls to a 7-3 record with this 24-7 loss.
Here is what you need to know about the game:
1. Snell or bust
Kentucky made it very clear in the first quarter in Knoxville that feeding Benny Snell is the priority. Snell carried it 8 times for 28 yards along with 4 catches for 15 more yards in the first 15 minutes. Early in the game the offense showed continued struggles to push the ball down field aside from forcing Snell to carry a major workload.
The second quarter opened with much of the same as Snell took a direct snap from the wildcat up the middle for 2 yards. That play was followed by an unforced error on the snap that sent Terry Wilson running backwards and stalled UK’s drive which ultimately ended with a missed field goal by Chance Poore.
The story has been the same for several weeks now, Kentucky has to find a way to scheme yards on offense that doesn’t included immediately handing it to Benny Snell. The offense has been painfully predictable for the most part, and the decline in performance by the offensive line certainly hasn’t helped matters.
Snell finished the game with 81 yards on 20 carries. While he got a little more space to run in the second half, he never really got anything going.
This pattern is becoming concerning with Kentucky trying to play their way into a major bowl game. The defense can’t carry the load week after week. Eddie Gran and the staff have to get something going that can produce enough points to beat a good team, right now that just isn’t happening.
Kentucky has run 13 plays today. Benny Snell has touched the ball on nine of them.— David Ubben (@davidubben) November 10, 2018
2. Tennessee went after UK’s secondary
For the better part of this season Kentucky has been in lock down mode against most air attacks attempted down the field. But Tennessee’s quarterback Jarrett Guarantano took several shots down the field in the first half including a 38 yard strike to Jordan Murphy which set up UT’s field goal. Then another 25 yard connection on the following drive placed Tennessee in UK territory but the defense forced a punt, unfortunately it was downed on the 3 yard-line placing the struggling Wildcat offense with horrible field position.
The following possession Guarantano took an immediate shot about 30 yards down the field but was not able to connect on that one. Then Josh Allen does what he does and sacked Guarantano to end any kind of momentum for Tennessee. It was short lived as another 30+ yard completion set up an easy touchdown run for the Vols.
The Vols clearly had a game plan to attack Kentucky’s secondary. Considering they only rushed for 20 yards last week against Charlotte, I guess that approach makes sense for them.
Tennessee took the air out of the ball a bit in the second half, finishing the game with 197 passing yards and 215 on the ground. But they had seven plays of over 20 yards, torching the Kentucky defense time and again.
Kentucky's opponents had completed just four passes over 20 yards all season.— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) November 10, 2018
Jarrett Guarantano has three such completions in the first half for the Vols.
3. The Big Blue Nation in Knoxville
Even though UT has struggled the past few seasons it feels like a big game atmosphere here in Knoxville. Both inside and outside of Neyland Stadium there are Cats fans everywhere. The attendance was reported at 95,258. I would guess around 20% of that number were Kentucky fans.
Blue got in for sure. There are rumblings all around of continued excitement for this football team and the possibility of getting 10 wins. With the basketball team’s lackluster start the pulse of the fanbase seems to be still all in for football and getting to a major bowl. I heard numerous mentions of Cats fans that are planning to travel to Louisville in two weeks and paint Cardinal Stadium blue.
With all of the wind now sucked out of the fanbase, let’s just hope people show up for senior night next week against Middle Tennessee State.
The Cats have work to do.
4. Eddie Gran...sigh
This has the potential to be the best season ever in the history of Kentucky Football. Instead, it could end without Kentucky even making a New Year’s Six bowl while losing in blowout fashion in its final two SEC games.
The offense has been the main culprit, as they’ve scored 46 points in their last 22 quarters of play if you take away the punt return score vs. Missouri and the fumble returned for a touchdown vs. Texas A&M.
That isn’t cutting it in any level of college football. Eddie Gran’s offense has been a disaster and kept this team from reaching its full potential. After Kentucky finished 87 in scoring offense last year, they’re well on their way to finishing even lower in 2018.
Something has to change, or else, 2019 and beyond will be more of the same, especially with Benny Snell almost certainly going pro.