LEXINGTON, Ky. — Through their five wins and two losses heading into Saturday night’s game at Kentucky, the Tennessee Volunteers had ranked as one of the more menacing defensive teams in the country.
The lost-yardage stops were not nearly as abundant against the Wildcats, who amassed 444 total yards, including 373 through the air by Devin Leary.
Tennessee had averaged four sacks per game but only got one Saturday, with Omarr Norman-Lott collecting that early in the third quarter. The Vols also had just two quarterback pressures and four total lost-yardage stops.
“You’ve got to give it to Kentucky,” Tennessee senior defensive tackle Omari Thomas said. “They’ve got a good offensive line. They blocked really well, and they played together. They just kind of threw us off a little bit as far as us getting our pressures and things.
“We just continued to play hard, and we’re enjoying the outcome. We’ll get back to it and find new things to affect the quarterback more and get back to what we do.”
Thomas elaborated on the topic significantly more than Vols coach Josh Heupel, who remained in silence when asked what Kentucky did to reduce Tennessee’s sacks, tackles for loss and hurries.
After nine seconds, Heupel said, “OK, next question.” Heupel stayed silent for 15 seconds after last weekend’s loss at Alabama when he was asked about the officiating.
Although Tennessee struggled all night against Leary, who entered Saturday averaging 196.7 passing yards per game, the Vols were impressive in limiting Wildcats running back Ray Davis. The transfer from Vanderbilt was averaging 111.6 yards per game to lead the Southeastern Conference but was held to 16 carries for 42 yards, or 2.6 yards per rush.
“We were playing a mixture of coverage, single-high and two-high, so the box wasn’t loaded all night long,” Heupel said. “We did a great job of block destruction early and penetrated. We didn’t let him get started, and then we wrapped up and tackled pretty well early. I feel like that’s why they went so heavy to the play-action pass there late in the first quarter.”
Said Thomas: “We were really trying to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. He’s a great running back who makes people miss. He’s patient, but he can also hit the hole really fast. We just had to play in our gaps and with great technique.”
Charles in charge
Tennessee sixth-year senior kicker and graduate transfer Charles Campbell didn’t make a game-winning kick, but his 4-for-4 showing on field-goals attempts certainly turned out to be the difference.
“It’s good to finally have him on our team,” Vols sixth-year senior quarterback and Michigan transfer Joe Milton III said. “We were together in the Big Ten, and to see him make those field goals when we played against him made me a little sad. Now that he’s with us, it’s great.
“I’m proud of him.”
Campbell improved to 15-of-17 on field-goal tries (88.24%) this season, with his only two misses coming from 50 yards or longer.
Odds and ends
The Vols increased their series advantage over Kentucky to 84-26-9, which includes a 40-15-3 mark in Lexington. … Doneiko Slaughter started Saturday night for Kamal Hadden, who is out for season after shoulder surgery, and freshman Rickey Gibson III played some cornerback as well.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].