Playing the Kentucky Wildcats while they are ranked bodes pretty well for Tennessee football. The only times the Vols have lost to a UK team with a number by its name were 1977, when they went 10-1 and finished No. 6 while the Vols were 4-7 in Johnny Majors’ first year, and 1953, the year after Robert Neyland retired.
In that 1953 season, Bear Bryant was still coach of the Wildcats. He never beat Neyland, but they were top 15 that year while the Vols were struggling through their first season under new head coach Harvey Robinson. Every other time, though, the Vols got the victory.
Saturday will mark another time the Vols face a ranked Kentucky team, as the Wildcats are No. 19 in the AP Poll and No. 17 in the Coaches Poll. UT has never lost to a ranked UK team as the favorite, which bodes well here. Let’s look at Tennessee football’s five wins against Kentucky while they were ranked.
The Tennessee football Volunteers have played the Wildcats when they were in the top 25 seven times.
Nov. 6, 2021
Yes, one of these wins came just last year. The Vols had already generated some hype under Josh Heupel by blowing out the Missouri Tigers 63-28 and then the South Carolina Gamecocks 45-20, but they were on a two-game losing streak. Kentucky was No. 18 in the AP Poll and No. 17 in the Coaches Poll. However, UT was coming off a bye.
That bye was crucial. The Vols scored a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage. They had another deep touchdown pass three plays into their next possession. In a back and forth shootout, the difference came in the second half, when Alontae Taylor had a pick-six.
Late in the game, Tennessee football was able to force four straight incompletions to hold onto the win. That was the signature victory for the Vols in Heupel’s first year and all but assured a winning record for them. It laid the foundation for the major steps this team has taken in the offseason, and now they enter the game in a much different spot.