Vols put it all together in 50-16 win over UK
Tennessee’s football team has been somewhat of a seesaw this season, with one unit going up often while the other goes down.
The Vols were stout on defense earlier in the season, but couldn’t regularly score. Then, while the defense was slumping the last two weeks, the offense finally found its stride.
Saturday night’s 50-16 win over Kentucky showed what the Vols are capable of when everything clicks for the Vols (5-5, 2-4 SEC). Butch Jones calls it complimentary football. The Vols did it to perfection in front of a sold-out crowd of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium.
“It’s a young football team, but this football team’s different,” Jones said. “Their whole mindset’s different. I always gauge it by them showing up to practice early and they’re always late to leave, which tells me they love coming to the Anderson Training Center. We’re building something special here. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m proud of our players.”
Offensively, the Vols scored early and often against an exhausted UK squad that was playing its eighth game in eight weeks and is now riding a five-game losing streak after starting the season 5-1 overall.
After Kentucky (5-6, 2-6 SEC) jumped out to a 3-0 lead, it took the Vols, led by quarterback Joshua Dobbs, just 1:21 to take an early lead of their own. Dobbs marched the Vols 73 yards and found the end zone when Dobbs quickly got the ball to a motioning Von Pearson, who took it around left end and scored a 21-yard touchdown.
There was plenty more to come from the offense, but it was the defense that stepped up next. With Kentucky starting quarterback Patrick Towles (ankle) temporarily out of the game, backup quarterback Reese Phillips got hit by cornerback Justin Coleman and served up a pick-6 to safety Brian Randolph, who grabbed the errant throw and ran it back 23 yards for the score to give the Vols a 14-3 lead.
“It was big,” Jones said of Randolph’s interception. “You know from a momentum standpoint it’s 7-0, and we intercept the ball and finish it and get the ball in the Checkerboards. That was big for us.
“We needed to take the football away and force some balls on the ground, some fumbles. We talk about that with ball disruptions, but again +2 on turnover margin and that’s usually evident of winning and losing.”
Dobbs would account for the next two touchdowns – a 16-yard strike to Pearson and a 9-yard run he took in himself. A 38-yard field goal from Aaron Medley sandwiched between those two TDs helped the Vols build a commanding 30-3 edge with 4:09 left in the first half.
Dobbs, making just his second start of the season, finished the evening 19-of-27 for 297 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions with 48 yards and an additional touchdown on the ground.
“I feel that as an offense, we definitely played a full game of good football,” Dobbs said. “We were able to take care of the football, move the ball very well tonight. We’re clicking on all cylinders which is very good and we’ll definitely need to keep this up. Just staying on the same page throughout the rest of the season.”
The Vols even stepped up on special teams. Despite missing one extra point, freshman kicker Aaron Medley did hit 3-of-4 field goals and was solid on kickoffs all evening. Tennessee’s coverage was strong in limited opportunities and kickoff returner Evan Berry started the second half off with a return that set the Vols up near midfield.
One play later, Dobbs hit Jason Croom for a 52-yard strike that gave the Vols a commanding 40-13 edge. The defense would only allow three more point the remainder of the game. Three units – offense, defense and special teams – worked together to secure win No. 5 for the Vols and move them one step closer to returning to the postseason.
“We had some big splash plays early which really helped us in terms of seizing momentum,” Jones said. “Obviously the turnovers, the Brian Randolph touchdown to put us up by two scores really got things rolling for us; two big fourth down conversions and keeping the drive alive (and) getting back to third downs – holding them to 3-of-14, and that’s a very good, explosive offense. A very good team victory.”