In a college football season defined by wild endings and perpetual uncertainty, Tennessee did its part to make sure one constant remained. Like paying taxes in April and catching traffic in Chattanooga, the Vols beat Kentucky Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium, 52-21, for the program's 30th win over the Wildcats in the past 31 tries.
Kentucky began the game with a glimmer of hope, when C.J. Johnson bullied his way into the backfield and stripped Josh Dobbs, scooping up the loose ball and returning it 77 yards for the score to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 8:23 left in the first quarter. But Johnson's scoop and score seemed to only ignite the Vols, who reeled off eight scores in their next nine possessions.
Josh Dobbs responded after his fumble, rumbling down the left sideline for a 28-yard touchdown to tie the game and set the wheels in motion for his team's 31-point win. Dobbs ended the night 16-of-26 for 233 passing yards, 51 rushing and four total touchdowns, helping power his team to its most lopdsided SEC win this season.
"We have a great drive and obviously give up seven points going the other way and we responded," coach Butch Jones said. "There was no panic. Again, I thought our kids showed maturity and a will to win."
Aaron Medley followed Dobbs' rushing touchdown with a 44-yard field goal to put Tennessee ahead 10-7 before Kentucky answered with a 1-yard Patrick Towles run to gain its only lead of the contest. The Wildcats' lead only sparked a ferocious offensive firework show from Tennessee, starting with a 75-yard strike from Dobbs to Josh Malone for the team's longest play from scrimmage this season just one play after Towles' touchdown. The pass and catch was the longest play of both players' careers and gave Tennessee a 17-14 lead it would only increase.
"I thought Josh Dobbs did some great things," Jones said. "He continues to get better and better. Josh Malone really stepped up, and obviously the big play, we needed that from the wide receiver corps ... It was great to finally throw the deep ball and get six out of it."
The Vols marched 75 yards once again right before halftime, this time in six plays on a drive that ended in a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Dobbs. Tennessee ended with 482 total yards and on a night in which star running back Jalen Hurd rushed for his lowest total of the season with 61 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
But this was a night in which Tennessee didn't need its bruising tailback to produce epic numbers on the ground. He did it in the air, catching a screen pass and housing it from 37 yards out to bring Tennessee's lead to 31-14 and effectively put down the Wildcats. Alvin Kamara did the most with his four rushing attempts to help spell Hurd as well, leading the team in rushing with 70 yards, 63 on big run to set up a Dobbs' touchdown.
"It looked exactly how we had drawn it up in practice," Kamara said matter-of-factly. "The linemen got on their blocks and I hit it."
But the Vols' special teams stole the show on a night of explosive performances. Evan Berry returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown for his third kick return for a score on the season. The touchdown put Tennessee up 45-21. Not to be outdone, Cam Sutton followed it just minutes later with an 84-yard punt return for a score to make it 52-21 with 5:29 to play in the third quarter.
That would be all the Vols would need.
Tennessee's defense also did its part, holding Kentucky to just 349 yards and 2-of-13 on third down. It was one of the team's most complete performances to date before heading into a matchup at home with South Carolina Nov. 7.
"It's a testament to how hard we work in practice," Kamara said. "We have to keep working harder and harder to keep stacking these wins like tonight."