SEC INSIDER

No. 18 Tennessee looks to rebound against Kentucky

Field Level Media

October 13, 2020 at 6:17 am.

Tennessee backup quarterback Harrison Bailey took all 49 snaps Sunday in a live scrimmage the day after the Volunteers absorbed their first loss of the season.

The Volunteers (2-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) were routed 44-21 at Georgia, getting outscored 27-0 in the second half. Tennessee fell from No. 14 to No. 18 in the national rankings following the defeat.

Quite naturally, the scrimmage alignment caused speculation that Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt was thinking about benching starter Jarrett Guarantano for the Vols’ Saturday home game against Kentucky.

On Monday, Pruitt got around to quashing that bit of speculation.

“Jarrett is our quarterback,” Pruitt said. “He gives us the best chance to have success. When you don’t have a lot of success, the quarterback gets too much blame. When you have a lot of success, the quarterback probably gets too much credit.

“Offensively, our struggle Saturday was not because of one independent person. It was a team effort. We understand that. It starts with us as coaches putting our guys in a better position to have success.”

Guarantano was actually pretty good in the first half at Georgia. He threw 36- and 27-yard touchdown passes in the second quarter to Josh Palmer, enabling the Vols to take a 21-17 lead to halftime.

After halftime, Guarantano was a turnover machine. He tossed an interception and lost two fumbles, all of which led to points. The second lost fumble was a strip-sack that was returned for a touchdown.

In fairness to Guarantano, he got little help. A veteran offensive line touted as the strength of the team was whipped most of the game. Tennessee rushed for minus-1 yard on 27 carries, enabling the Bulldogs to get after the quarterback.

The Vols will aim to create better balance against a Kentucky team that shook off tough losses to Auburn and Mississippi by thumping Mississippi State 24-2 last week. It marked the first time that a Mike Leach-coached offense failed to score at least a field goal.

The Wildcats (1-2, 1-2) intercepted six passes, overcoming a poor performance by their offense.

“Offensively, we’ve got to get some things corrected,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We need the offense to respond much like the defense did last week. We need to put it all together.”

The Wildcats won easily despite collecting just 157 total yards and 10 first downs. Quarterback Terry Wilson completed just 8 of 20 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Wilson also had 50 of the team’s 84 rushing yards.

One Kentucky touchdown occurred as the result of a 2-yard field after a 76-yard interception return by Josh Paschal. The final touchdown came on an 8-yard interception return by Jordan Wright with less than seven minutes remaining in the game.

It was somewhat remarkable that the Wildcats prevailed since they only had the ball for 25:11, running 31 fewer plays than Mississippi State.

“It was aggravating,” Stoops said. “It was not good enough for us.”

This will be the 116th time the Southeastern Conference rivals have met. Tennessee leads the series 81-25-9, including a 17-13 victory in Lexington last year. Only Auburn and Georgia have played more often in SEC history with 125 matchups.