Cats’ Comeback Bid Falls Short
Dating back over the last twenty or so years Kentucky and Tennessee have played some real nail biters in Lexington. However most of those games have gone for the Volunteers. On Saturday night the Big Blue Nation finally thought luck would go their way. Unfortunately it was more of the same as the Cats couldn’t convert on their final drive. Painful as it is let’s recap it as Kentucky Loses A Heartbreaker to Tennessee 45-42.
Defense Had No Answers
A week ago in the 31-17 loss to Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers set an SEC record completing 36 of 39 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. On Saturday night the UK defense made Hendon Hooker look like the good version of Patrick Mahomes. Completing 16 of 20 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns. If you are keeping score at home that’s a robust 16 yards per completion. Furthermore the normally good UK defense has been historically bad the last three games.
It only took the Vols four plays and 37 seconds to jump out to a 14-7 lead. Hooker hit JaVonta Payton on a 75 yard strike then a 72 yarder to Velus Jones Jr. However the Cats came roaring back behind a Will Levis eight yard run and a three yard pass to Justin Rigg to take a 21-14 lead. UK fans were feeling better but things unfortunately were about to change.
Huge Momentum Swing
An 18-yard pass from Hooker to Jacob Warren tied the game at 21. On the ensuing drive, Kentucky got it to the Tennessee 39 when their drive stalled. Mark Stoops elected to go for it on fourth down rather than punt it away. A Levis to Wan’Dale Robinson pass was incomplete and the Vols got it back with good field position. Josh Heupel’s squad managed to go 35 yards in four plays. A 43 yard Chase McGrath field goal gave the Vols a 24-21 lead and all the momentum heading into the half.
Starting the second half the two schools traded scores keeping it a three point game. However another huge swing was coming. With Levis locked onto a receiver Alontae Taylor stepped in front taking it 56 yards for a pick six putting the Vols up by 10. Earlier this week Taylor ruffled some feathers by saying “you don’t lose to Kentucky.” Give him and the team credit for backing it up.
One Last Chance
Levis hit Izayah Cummings on a 24-yard touchdown cutting the lead to 45-42. Of course Tennessee drove the ball right down the field. However their drive stalled and when McGrath missed a 35-yard field goal UK had a chance with 4:42 to go. What happened next was the nightmares of many past UK games, especially against the Vols. On a third and six Levis was sacked by Tyler Baron. However the refs missed a blatant facemask. Not only did they not call the flag they whistled Stoops for a 15 unsportsmanlike conduct penalty giving the Cats a fourth and 24. The Cats converted as Levis hit Cummings and hope remained.
KENTUCKY CONVERTS ON 4TH & 24 😳 pic.twitter.com/gxUOmvEuwI
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 7, 2021
The hope was short-lived as four straight incompletions signaled the end of the game. You have to wonder as well as Kentucky was running the ball and with a couple of time outs left why not run it and set up for a game tying field goal. If you read our game preview we said the Cats needed to get back to playing Kentucky football. They ran for 225 yards so it’s definitely a question that needs asking.
For the game UK put up some incredible numbers as they had 612 yards of total offense, held the ball for nearly 47 minutes, had 35 first downs, and still lost. Furthermore Levis completed 31 of 49 passes for 372 yards and three scores. Wan’Dale Robinson also had a monster night with 13 receptions for 166 yards and a score. In the end it’s a very painful night for the BBN as Kentucky loses a heartbreaker to Tennessee 45-42. How painful a night was it? Check out this depressing stat.
With 612 yards tonight, @UKFootball has amassed at least 600 yards of total offense 3 times in school history against Tennessee. Kentucky is 0-3 in those 3 games (1997, 2016, 2021).
— Corey Price (@coreyp08) November 7, 2021
Following the game several UT players celebrated and took pictures standing on the UK logo.
Don't forget this @ukcoachstoops
They came out and celebrated on our logo
But they don't view this as a rivalry they say. pic.twitter.com/gGK7AUKzgR
— The Kentucky Logo (@TheKentuckyLogo) November 7, 2021
As a player and fan that should make you angry. However win the game and things like this don’t happen.
Coming Up Next Week
With the loss Kentucky drops its third straight falling to 6-3 and on the season and 4-3 in the SEC. Next Saturday they close out conference play when they travel to Nashville to play Vanderbilt looking for a sixth straight win in the series. In addition the loss knocks the Cats out of any chance of a New Year’s Six Bowl. Currently Last Word has them playing in the Peach Bowl but you can kiss that goodbye.
On the other side of the ball the Volunteers improve to 5-5 on the year and 3-3 in the league. The win is their first over a ranked squad since beating Kentucky in 2018. For Hooker it’s some revenge as he was Virginia Tech’s quarterback when they lost to the Cats in the 2019 Belk Bowl. They have a tough one next week as they host top ranked Georgia. UT has a great chance for a winning season and a bowl game. We have them in the Union Mortgage Bowl right now but they’re likely to improve.
Again Kentucky loses a heartbreaker to Tennessee 45-42 and what started out as possibly the best season in 70 years has taken a major down turn. The Cats can still finish 9-3 and go to a good bowl game but it seems like a major missed opportunity. Thanks for checking out our recap here at Last Word On College Football. We’ll be back later this week for a Vandy preview.