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Tennessee shows resilience, maturity in comeback win against Kentucky

After a 1-4 start to the season, you can hardly recognize this UT team.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — At the end of the first quarter at Kroger Field, a few things were certain: it was cold, Kentucky was mad and the Vols did not look good. The Wildcats punched Tennessee in the mouth to start the game with a 17-play, 75-yard drive. 

Kentucky only threw the ball twice and found the end zone once. 

Tennessee had no answer, going three-and-out then having a punt blocked after a mishandled snap.

Kentucky ran the ball twice and found the end zone for the second time.

The stats were astounding:

-Kentucky gained 112 yards on 23 plays.

-Tennessee just 3 yards on 6 plays

-The Vols trailed 13-0 (after a blocked PAT) at the end of the first quarter

The Wildcats,apparently, remembered last season's 24-7 upset in Neyland Stadium. All the progress Tennessee had made as a team since beating Mississippi State in October seemed to be left in Knoxville. 

Someone must have sped south down I-75 to pick it back up because the script flipped in the final 45 minutes.

Tennessee's defense held Kentucky to 215 yards and gave up zero points for the remainder of the game. It culminated in a goal-to-go stand with less than three minutes in the game. The Wildcats ran an option with quarterback Lynn Bowden and running back Christopher Rodriguez Jr. Bowden kept it, defensive lineman Ja'Quain Blakely and linebacker Daniel Bituli were there to meet him at the line of scrimmage.

Kentucky wouldn't find the end zone a third time. Tennessee wins 17-13.

Sixth Man

Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano joked after the game with SEC Network sideline correspondent Cole Cubelic that his team has started calling him the "Sixth Man." It is basketball season after all, so it only makes sense. The redshirt junior came off the bench to start the second half after freshman Brian Maurer started the game, cast and all on his left hand, and marched Tennessee down the field for its only two touchdowns of the night, two fantastic throws to wide receivers Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer. Guarantano finished the night going 7/8 for 115 yards on top of those two scores. The redemption arc continues for the quarterback most left for dead after his goal-line fumble against Alabama. We all love a good comeback story.

Plus he tweeted this after the game and OH MAN I WAS NOT READY.

Daniel Bituli Dominates

The senior linebacker put up a game-high and season-best 19 tackles against Kentucky. It's the second-highest tackle total of his career. That final one couldn't have come at a more perfect time.

Comeback Kids

13 points is the largest deficit Tennessee has overcome under head coach Jeremy Pruitt. It's just the second time Tennessee has trailed at halftime and won the game under Pruitt. It's the largest comeback Tennessee has had since opening day of the regular season in 2017, a 42-41 double-overtime win against Georgia Tech.

"Dem Orange Britches!"

Tennessee wore orange pants for the second time this season. The Vols have now won four straight games in which the team wears orange on bottom. Trey Smith approves.

RELATED | Tennessee announces the team will wear orange pants vs. Kentucky

What's next

After playing six games in a row, Tennessee will have its second bye of the season next week. UT now sits at 5-5, 3-3 in the SEC. Tennessee will travel to Missouri for a game against the Tigers on Nov. 23. After starting the season 5-1, Mizzou has dropped three straight games, including a 27-0 loss to Georgia on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Vols, Missouri is undefeated at home and winless on the road. That streak will be put to the test next Saturday when the Tigers host Florida. Speaking of the Gators, Florida put an end to the slim SEC East Title hopes for Tennessee. Its 56-0 win against Vanderbilt on Saturday put an end to that possibility. The postseason is still an option though. If the Vols can win one of its final two games against Missouri and Vanderbilt, Tennessee will be bowl eligible for the first time since 2016.