KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee spoiled this Kentucky team’s streak-busting reputation and maintained its home domination of the rivalry.
Jarrett Guarantano threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Callaway on the final play of the first half and Darrell Taylor recorded four sacks as Tennessee trounced No. 12 Kentucky 24-7 on Saturday. Tennessee has won its last 17 home games against Kentucky, which hasn’t beaten the Volunteers at Neyland Stadium since 1984.
“I think the whole team felt very confident going into this game,” Guarantano said. “I know we were struggling last week (a 14-3 victory over Charlotte), but this week was different.”
Tennessee (5-5, 2-4 SEC) has reason to feel confident whenever it hosts Kentucky (7-3, 5-3, No. 11 College Football Playoff).
Kentucky had ended one long run of futility earlier this season when it won 27-16 at Florida to snap a 31-game skid in that series. But the Wildcats couldn’t reverse their history of frustration in Knoxville.
“I didn’t know nothing about the streak until yesterday,” Kentucky defensive end/outside linebacker Josh Allen said. “I wasn’t worried about no streak. I was worried about getting our next win and just go from there.”
Tennessee broke the game open by scoring two touchdowns in the last three minutes of the second quarter.
After Tim Jordan’s 3-yard TD run gave Tennessee a 10-0 lead with 2:56 left before halftime, the Vols forced a punt and got the ball back at their own 28-yard line with a minute remaining.
Tennessee initially appeared intent on running out the clock, but the Vols called a timeout after Ty Chandler’s 14-yard carry with 13 seconds left. Guarantano threw a 17-yard completion to Callaway that put Tennessee on Kentucky’s 39 with 6 seconds remaining.
Rather than trying a short, quick pass to set up a long field-goal attempt, Guarantano threw deep. Callaway was at the front of a crowd in the right side of the end zone when he snared the ball to give Tennessee a 17-0 halftime advantage.
“We were a little bit out of field-goal range, so we took a shot in the end zone,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “I thought Jarrett did a good job evading a little bit of rush there, stepped up in the pocket and made a good throw to give us a chance, and Marquez went up and got it.”
Guarantano went 12 of 20 for 197 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to Dominick Wood-Anderson that extended Tennessee’s advantage to 24-0 in the third quarter. That lead proved insurmountable against a dispirited Kentucky squad.
Kentucky’s hopes for its first SEC championship game appearance had disappeared with a 34-17 loss to No. 5 Georgia (No. 5 CFP) last week, but the Wildcats still were in position for a potential New Year’s Six bowl appearance if they had won their final three-regular season games.
The Wildcats now likely must settle for a less prestigious bowl. Tennessee is one victory away from bowl eligibility after going winless in SEC competition last year.
“I thought we were very prepared going into the game, but it showed on the field that we weren’t,” Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad said. “They were more hungry than us tonight for whatever reason.”
Kentucky’s only points came on Terry Wilson’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Conrad with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Kentucky: The Wildcats have relied on Benny Snell Jr.’s running ability and their defense’s tenacity all year, but it appears both are wearing down late in the season. Snell, who entered Saturday as the SEC rushing leader, ran for 81 yards on 20 carries but was held below 100 yards rushing for a third straight game. He also had six catches for 25 yards. Kentucky headed into the Georgia game having not allowed any opponents to exceed 20 points all season. Now the Wildcats have given up at least 24 points in back-to-back weeks.
Tennessee: The return of safety Micah Abernathy and Chandler made a difference. Abernathy was back after missing four games with an ankle injury and had seven tackles. Nagging injuries limited Chandler to two carries last week, but he ran 16 times for 89 yards Saturday. After running for just 20 yards on 26 carries against Charlotte, Tennessee rushed 40 times for 215 yards against Kentucky.
Chris Snead, a center judge on the officiating crew, was helped off the field and taken to an ambulance during the third quarter. SEC officials said after the game that Snead was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
A skirmish in the end zone after Jordan’s touchdown resulted in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for every player on both teams. This marked the second straight season that a Tennessee-Kentucky game included an incident that resulted in penalties for every player on the field.
Kentucky should fall out of the top 15 and could sink as far as the 20s, though it likely will stay in the Top 25.
All seven of Taylor’s sacks this season have come in two games. He had four sacks Saturday and had three in a 38-12 loss to Georgia on Sept. 29. … Guarantano has thrown 146 consecutive passes without an interception. That breaks a school record formerly held by Casey Clausen, who threw 143 straight passes without getting picked off in 2003.
Kentucky hosts Middle Tennessee.
Tennessee hosts Missouri.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Follow Steve Megargee at https://twitter.com/stevemegargee