Tennessee hosted Kentucky in a must-win conference game Saturday, and ran wild to a 49-36 win.
The Vols’ win over the Wildcats, combined with Florida's win over South Carolina, puts Tennessee just behind the Gators in the SEC East. A Florida loss next week and two more Tennessee wins can give the Vols the division title by virtue of a tiebreaker.
"I'm just happy for this team, we're in a two-game playoff," Vols head coach Butch Jones said. "I thought they had great energy, great excitement, and we have a lot of momentum right now, but as we know it's a week-to-week season and we have to be ready for Missouri coming in here."
The Wildcats caught the Vols off guard on defense on their first drive, needing only two rushes from Stephen Johnson and Stanley "Boom" Williams to take a 7-0 lead.
Josh Dobbs and Tennessee would respond, however, with a 41-yard run that set up a 25-yard pass to an untouched Josh Smith to tie the game 7-7. Dobbs would tack on another rushing touchdown in the first quarter, and a 20-yard pass to Ethan Wolf to take the lead for the rest of the half. The Vols led 21-13 at the half.
Kentucky opened the third quarter with a field goal. Tennessee countered on their next drive with a “flea flicker” play in which Josh Dobbs handed the ball to running back John Kelly, who lateraled it back to Dobbs, who then connected a deep pass to Josh Malone for a 51-yard receiving touchdown.
Alvin Kamara contributed a 17-yard touchdown run with three minutes remaining in the third quarter to put the Vols up 35-16.
Kentucky’s Jojo Kemp made things interesting with a 71-yard touchdown run. Their two-point conversion failed. Josh Dobbs responded with a 45-yard rushing touchdown for the Vols, putting them up a whopping 20 points, 42-22. Kamara tacked on a 29-yard touchdown run to make it 49-22.
"Hard fought, very very good team victory. I thought we played complementary football, and that was great to see," Vols head coach Butch Jones said. "I believe we only had five third downs the entire game, which means you're winning first downs, mixed downs, first and second down. I thought our offensive line came off the ball really well."
Dobbs threw 11-17 for 223 yards and three passing touchdowns, while rushing 147 yards on 14 carries for two touchdowns.
I thought he did a really good job. He had a great command of the line of scrimmage and a great command performance," Jones said of his senior quarterback.
"We just knew that we needed to run him, and Josh is really effective. He can run the football and throw the football and that opens up so many things for us offensively. It all starts up front. I thought our offensive line did a very good job. I thought Josh did a good job of checking to the plays that we need to. There's a lot of times that we put a lot of things on his shoulders in terms of three or four plays at once that he has to make a decision of which play to go to, whether it's running pass options or to just check with me."
Kamara finished with 128 rushing yards on ten carries with two touchdowns in his first game back from a knee injury suffered against Alabama.
Cam Sutton also returned from injury, playing for the first time since the Ohio game in September when he broke a bone in his foot/ankle. Sutton broke up two passes and had three tackles.
"I think that's a great story. They're selfless individuals who put the team first and really wanted to play," Jones said of the two team captains. "They were determined and they willed themselves to getting back healthy. I thought that really sparked our football team."
The Vols just barely missed out on history in the run game. Sophomore running back John Kelly finished with 94 yards; had he finished with six more, the Vols would have had three 100-yard rushers for only the second time in program history. The other instance came in 1991 against Vanderbilt.