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Butch Jones, Vols lose another close game

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Vols coach Butch Jones reviews loss to Kentucky
Dan Fleser

 

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Even during its down seasons throughout much of the past 30-plus years, Tennessee could count on a victory when it played Kentucky.

Not Saturday night.

The Wildcats beat the Vols 29-26 amid snow flurries at Kroger Field.

Adams: After Vols’ loss to Kentucky, what is John Currie waiting for?

It’s just the second Kentucky (6-2, 3-2 SEC) victory in the past 33 meetings of the schools. 

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Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson scored the winning touchdown on an 11-yard read-option keeper with 33 seconds remaining.

The Vols (3-5, 0-5 SEC) have lost four straight, begging the question of whether coach Butch Jones‘ tenure will survive to next week’s game against Southern Mississippi.

More: Some former Vols remain critical of coach Butch Jones after another loss

“I coach for my job every single day. That hasn’t changed since the minute I walked in here,” said Jones, who added that he “absolutely” believes he still has the support of athletic director John Currie.

The Vols have lost their first five conference games for the first time since 2012, when Derek Dooley lost seven SEC games in a row before being fired.

Here are five things we learned.

Vols will regret their missed opportunities

Tennessee got into the red zone six times, but three of those trips ended in field goals.

That included one opportunity from Kentucky’s 1 that imploded after a false start, followed by a sack, and resulted in a field goal.

Brent Cimaglia was 4 of 6 on field-goal attempts.

The Vols converted four takeaways into just nine points.

“Our defense did a really good job of taking the football away, but then it’s complementary football,” Jones said. “It’s what you do with the football when you get it.”

Jones haunted by one-possession losses

The Vols dropped to 10-14 in games decided by one possession (eight points or fewer) during the Jones era.

This year, UT has won one-possession results over Georgia Tech and Massachusetts but lost such games against Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Ty Chandler can play

The Vols played without their top offensive option, starting running back John Kelly. He was suspended after being cited for marijuana possession on Tuesday night.

But Chandler, a true freshman from Nashville, made Kelly’s absence seem like no big deal.

He rushed for a career-high 120 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns and added 33 receiving yards. And his best play of the night didn’t count. Chandler slipped through a crease off right tackle during the first quarter and shot 80 yards for a would-be touchdown that was taken off the board by a holding penalty on wide receiver Josh Smith.

Carlin Fils-aime was effective, too, adding 73 yards on 13 carries.

“I thought our young running backs really stepped up,” Jones said.

Tennessee’s defense was feast or famine

The Vols recovered four Kentucky fumbles. Kendal Vickers forced two, including one on the first play from scrimmage.

When Kentucky held onto the ball, though, it had little trouble moving the chains. The Wildcats had 371 yards of total offense at a clip of 7.1 yards per play. Benny Snell rushed for 180 yards.

Jarrett Guarantano had his best game to date

Guarantano showed patience and poise in the pocket and made several smart decisions and sharp throws throughout his third career start.

He completed 18 of 23 passes for 242 yards. Guarantano’s final pass was a Hail Mary that went for 48 yards to Jeff George and came up 3 yards shy of the end zone.

The major blemish to UT’s passing game was that Guarantano was sacked seven times, continuing an ongoing trend of shoddy pass protection.

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