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Offensive surge, penalties stand out in 29-26 loss to Kentucky

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Tennessee fans in Kentucky looking forward to the game.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky used a 72-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to beat Tennessee 29-26 on Saturday night.

Stephen Johnson scored on an 11-yard run with 33 seconds remaining for Kentucky (6-2, 3-2 SEC).

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

Here are the highlights and low moments of the game.

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Vols coach Butch Jones reviews loss to Kentucky
Dan Fleser

BEST OF THE NIGHT

Tennessee’s ability to move the football

The Vols’ inability to score touchdowns in the red zone — they settled for field goals on three of six trips inside the 20 — will haunt them, but, overall, UT’s offense showed signs of life.

The Vols finished with a season-high 445 yards.

Tennessee ended its streak without an offensive touchdown at 231 minutes, 48 seconds, when Ty Chandler scored on a 1-yard run with 6:37 remaining in the second quarter.

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Vols make big plays

Coach Butch Jones has said for weeks that the Vols need some chunk-yardage plays to spark the offense. They got it Saturday, with six plays of at least 20 yards.

Tennessee (3-5, 0-5) entered the game with just 19 plays of 20-plus yards through seven games.

Turnover margin

Tennessee’s four takeaways marked its most since it forced four turnovers in a win over Missouri on Nov. 19, 2016.

Kendal Vickers stripped the ball from Benny Snell on the game’s first play, a fumble that Nigel Warrior recovered, resulting in a quick 3-0 lead for UT. All four takeaways came on fumbles.

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“We just wanted to be physical and put our face on the ball,” said Vickers, who forced two fumbles.

The Vols had no turnovers and have turned the ball over just once in Jarrett Guarantano’s three starts at quarterback.

WORST OF THE NIGHT

Penalizing everyone on one play

Several Vols and Wildcats were involved in a shoving match after a kickoff during the first quarter. The skirmish resulted in offsetting penalties on each team, and the officials assessed every player from each roster with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“I ain’t never seen nothing like that,” Vickers said. “I didn’t understand it.”

That ruling became relevant in the second quarter when Tennessee’s Daniel Bituli and Kentucky’s Davonte Robinson were flagged for offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties. Both players were ejected. NCAA rules state that a player who receives two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the same game is ejected. Each player was already carrying one unsportsmanlike penalty from the first-quarter assessment.

In the fourth quarter, Tennessee nickelback Rashaan Gaulden and UK wide receiver Tavin Richardson were ejected for offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

Another failure at the 1-yard line

Tennessee traveled 74 yards on its second drive to the Kentucky 1-yard line. 

On second down, center Coleman Thomas flinched before the snap for a 5-yard false start. Guarantano was sacked on the ensuing play. After a 10-yard Guarantano scramble on third-and-16, the Vols settled for a field goal.

It marked the third time this season that a Tennessee drive that reached the 1-yard line didn’t produce a touchdown.

The Vols reached the 1 against Florida and Alabama, only have false-start penalties move them back. Each of those drives ended in an interception.

Tennessee’s discipline

The Vols had nine penalties for 54 yards.

“Nine penalties, inexcusable,” Jones said. “That’s on myself, and that’s everyone taking responsibility and accountability. We talk about details, accountability and toughness. It starts with me. It starts with the coaching staff, and it’s everyone in our organization, but it all falls on my shoulders.”

Some penalties were especially crippling.

Wide receiver Josh Smith’s holding penalty wiped away Ty Chandler’s 80-yard touchdown run. Thomas’ false start was ill-timed. Justin Martin had a third-down pass interference on a drive that resulted in a Kentucky touchdown.

Then there were the player ejections for unsportsmanlike conduct.

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