Kentucky falls to UT...again

October 29, 2023

Quarterback Devin Leary passed for a season high 372 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but Kentucky lost to No. 21 Tennessee 33-27 on Saturday night at Kroger Field.

Leary had his best game as a Wildcat, connecting on 28 of 39 through the air with no interceptions. Sophomore Dane Key was on the receiving end of seven of those passes, covering a career best 113 yards and a touchdown.

Kentucky (5-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) was not as effective in the run game as it had been in recent weeks. Ray Davis rushed 16 times for 42 yards and a touchdown but Kentucky had just 72 yards rushing as a team.

Freshman Ty Bryant led the Cats with a career high 12 tackles, while linebackers D’Eryk Jackson and Trevin Wallace each had 11.

The Cats got the ball first but went three and out and was forced to punt. Tennessee took over at its own 30 with 12:35 to play in the first quarter.

Tennessee (6-2, 3-2) wasted little time in getting on the board. Tennessee needed five plays to cover 70 yards, ending with a 52-yard touchdown run by Jaylen Wright. Charles Campbell added the point after and UT led 7-0 with 10:47 still to play in the first period.

The Cats went for a fourth and one on the ensuing drive and did not make it, giving the Vols the ball at the UK 35 yard line. But Tennessee was not able to do much with the possession and was forced into a 44-yard Campbell field goal, which was good, and the Vols led 10-0 with 5:34 left in the first.

Kentucky had its best drive of the first quarter on the next possession. On two occasions, Leary was able to find tight end Jordan Dingle, once for 22 yards and later for 16, to get the Cats into UT territory. Leary would connect with Tayvion Robinson to get the Cats to the UT 11 yard line. The quarter would end with UK threatening but with UT holding a 10-0 lead.

In the second quarter, the Cats got on the board when Alex Raynor made a 28-yard field goal, cutting the UT lead to 10-3 with 14:51 left in the half.

Tennessee would answer on its next drive. The Vols would use 10 plays to get into UK territory but the UK defense would hold and Tennessee would settle for a 49-yard Campbell field goal, extending the lead to 13-3 with 11:13 to play in the half.

Kentucky would respond on its next drive, when Leary connected with multiple receivers to get the Cats into the red zone. Leary hit Barion Brown for a 32-yard pickup and later connected with both Robinson and Dane Key, setting the Cats up in prime scoring position. Kentucky scored its first touchdown of the game when Leary found Brown again, this time for an 11-yard touchdown. Raynor added the PAT and the Cats cut the UT lead to 13-10 with 7:38 left in the half.

Tennessee responded very quickly. The Vols needed just five plays and 1:22 to cover 75 yards. The final play was a 39-yard touchdown pass from Joe Milton to Chas Nimrod. Campbell added the point after and UT extended the lead to 20-10 with 6:16 to play in the half.

The Cats answered with a methodical, 10-play drive that mixed both the run and pass. Davis got involved early and late on the drive. In fact, Davis would rush eight yards to get the Cats to the UT seven, then would score on a seven-yard rush. Raynor added the extra point and UK cut the Tennessee lead to 20-17 with 1:46 left in the half.

Tennessee would get one more opportunity to score at the end of the half. The Vols would get a 34-yard field goal from Campbell with five seconds left in the half, giving UT a 23-17 lead. That would be the halftime score.

The Vols got the first possession of the second half and UK was able to force its first three and out of the game. UT punted and the Cats took over at their own 30 with 13:55 still remaining in the third quarter.

Kentucky would take the next possession into Tennessee territory before a sack of Leary put the Cats behind the chains. UK would eventually go for it on fourth down from the UT 34 but Leary’s pass for Demie Sumo-Karngbaye would fall incomplete and Tennessee took over with 10:29 left in the third.

Tennessee would cash in on the ensuing possession. The Vols drove into UK territory but the Kentucky defense held, forcing a 35-yard field goal attempt from Campbell. The ball hit the right upright and bounced through, giving UT a 26-17 lead with 6:49 left in the third period.

Again, Kentucky responded with a big drive. Leary connected with Brown for 12 yards and, later in the drive, with Key for 34 yards, getting the Cats to the UT 14. Leary would then scramble for eight yards. Two plays later, Leary hit Dane Key with a seven-yard touchdown pass. Raynor added the PAT at UK cut the UT lead to 26-24 with 2:39 left in the third.

Tennessee got one first down on their next possession but on the final play of the third quarter, Milton was sacked by UK’s Josaih Hayes and Octavious Oxendine, leaving the Vols facing a fourth down as the third period ended with UT leading 26-24.

The first play of the fourth period was a punt that Robinson took on a fair catch at the UK 20. The Cats took over there.

UK was able to move the ball on the arm of Leary. He hit Davis for 10 yards, Key for 21 yards and Sumo-Karngbaye for 15 to get UK into striking distance. But the drive stalled and UK was forced to try a 53-yard field goal that Raynor pulled left. UT took over, after a penalty, at their own 20 with 10:57 to play.

Tennessee would extend its lead on the following drive. The Vols marched 80 yards in 12 plays, ending with a Dylan Sampson touchdown run. Campbell added the PAT and the Vols led 33-24 with 7:30 remaining.

Kentucky would get closer on its next drive, which ended with a Raynor field goal from 28 yards out, cutting the Vols’ advantage to 33-27 with 4:24 to play. That would be the final score.

Kentucky returns to action on Saturday, visiting Mississippi State in Starkville. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.