Tennessee’s heading from an SEC East challenger to an unranked team in the span of two weeks.
The No. 18 Volunteers were thrashed 34-7 by Kentucky on Saturday to drop to 2-2. Kentucky took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to two Jarrett Guarantano interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in back-to-back possessions.
The first score came when Kelvin Joseph returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown. When Tennessee got the ball back, Guarantano helped engineer a drive that moved to the Kentucky 28 in just five plays.
Then things went sideways. Jamin Davis picked off Guarantano’s pass on the sixth play of the drive and returned that interception 85 yards for a score.
Guarantano returned to the bench visibly frustrated and was immediately replaced by backup QB J.T. Shrout. And, well, things didn’t go much better on Shrout’s first drive. His first pass of the game was intercepted by Tyrell Aijan.
The 27-point win for the Wildcats is their biggest blowout of Tennessee in 85 years and it’s the first time that Kentucky has won at Tennessee since 1984.
Tennessee plays 3 QBs
Guarantano returned to the game after Shrout’s pick led to a Kentucky field goal and a 17-0 lead and Tennessee’s ground game powered a drive that ended in a touchdown. But the passing game was so bad throughout the course of the game that UT ended up using three quarterbacks. Freshman Harrison Bailey came into the game in the fourth quarter with the Wildcats leading by 27 points.
Guarantano finished the game 14-of-21 passing for 88 yards and two picks. Bailey was 1-of-4 for 24 yards. And Shrout’s only pass was the interception. Combined, the three QBs averaged just 4.3 yards per passing attempt.
The growth that Guarantano has shown at times throughout his Tennessee career simply hasn’t been consistent. And that lack of consistency has always led to a tenuous grip on the starting job. Will coach Jeremy Pruitt make a QB change ahead of next week’s game against No. 2 Alabama?
Kentucky as the third-best team in the East?
Kentucky wasn’t spectacular outside of the interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. But the Wildcats didn’t have to be. And besides, a ruthless efficiency that doesn’t exactly produce the most exciting football has been a hallmark of Kentucky’s success in recent years.
There’s a case to be made that the Wildcats are actually the third-best team in the SEC East. Like Tennessee, Kentucky is also 2-2. But UK’s losses came in a wild instant-replay-marred Week 1 game at Auburn and in overtime via a missed extra point to Ole Miss in Week 2.
UK won its first game a week ago with a 24-2 thrashing of a Mississippi State team that threw 70 passes. Combine that with this Tennessee win and Kentucky has outscored its opponents 58-9 over the last 120 minutes of football.
Tennessee has been outscored 61-7 since it had a halftime lead against Georgia.
While Tennessee will fall out of the AP Top 25 on Sunday, Kentucky will creep closer to getting ranked. If the Wildcats beat Missouri on Oct. 24, we’ll be staring at the prospect of an intriguing — and likely low-scoring — game between UK and Georgia on Halloween.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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