Highlights are one thing. Turning points that changed the flow of the game are another. The distinction must be made for Tennessee football in its 45-42 win over the Kentucky Wildcats to move to 5-4 and 3-3 in the SEC and effectively guarantee itself a winning season. These were the key moments that dictated the Vols’ victory on Saturday.
Two passes to Velus Jones Jr. after 3rd and 18 lead to first down.
Back to back 70-plus yard touchdown passes to open the game gave UT a huge advantage. They also forced a missed field goal to have the ball up 14-7. However, they lost control of the game with a fumble and then a three-and-out, and Kentucky scored on both. UK was in control A false start and then a sack brought up a 3rd and 18 at midfield with UT trailing 21-14 in the second.
Hooker found Jones for a 14-yard pass. Then, on 4th and 4, he drew a pass interference call that gave them new life. The next two plays saw a 15-yard run from Hooker and an 18-yard touchdown pass from him to Jacob Warren. If that 3rd and 18 play and fourth down penalty doesn’t happen, though, the Vols may have been out of it.
Incomplete pass forced on 4th and 4
After that touchdown to tie it up, Tennessee football was once again allowing Kentucky to drive down the field. Tied at 21, UK had the ball 1st and 10 at the UT 45 with 32 seconds left, and a six-yard run brought it to 2nd and 4, leaving them poised to take the lead at halftime. However, the Vols then benefitted from bad play-calling and forced two incomplete passes.
On 4th and 4, Mark Stoops decided to go for it, and a third straight incomplete pass gave UT the ball back near midfield. They cashed in and used three plays to get into field goal range. Chase McGrath then hit a 43-yard field goal at the end of the half. With a 45-42 victory, this sequence made all the difference.
Alontae Taylor pick-six
Trading touchdowns to enter the second half was expected given the way these two teams were playing, and that’s exactly what they did. Kentucky scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, and the Vols followed it up with their own to go up 31-28.
On the next drive, what may be considered the play of the game took place. Kentucky had gotten to the UT 47-yard line, and on 2nd and 10, Alontae Taylor baited Will Levis to throwing his way. He picked the ball off and ran it back for a touchdown. We’ll get into how the Vols held onto the lead after that, but this was the play to keep them in control of the game until the end.
Two sacks lead to fourth down stop
As has been documented on this site, Tennessee football couldn’t buy a stop on third down against Kentucky. After that pick-six, Kentucky cut it to 38-35 with a touchdown and then had a fourth down stop. They then drove into UT territory and brought up a 1st and 10 at the 44. That’s when the pass rush stepped up.
Bryon Young sacked Levis for a 10-yard loss. Kentucky then still made it manageable with a 13-yard pass to bring up 4th and 7. Young brought pressure again, and Caleb Tremblay got a sack. The Vols got the ball back up 38-35 and had a three-play, 47-yard touchdown drive with two passes, including the score, from Hendon Hooker to Cedric Tillman.
4th down stop secures the game
Kentucky would’t go away. After the Vols went up 45-35, they got another touchdown to make it 45-42 and then got the ball with the chance to win or tie late thanks to a missed field goal by UT in the red zone. A missed face mask on a sack by Tyler Baron brought up 4th and 24 at their own 34-yard line, but they converted to bring up a 1st and 10 at the UT 38-yard line.
Just a few more yards would put the Wildcats in field goal range. However, Tennessee football had its last stand, forcing four straight incomplete passes. That secured the game for the Vols, and it’s pretty self-explanatory why that was a key moment, as it allowed them to run out the clock.