KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s running game went wild on Saturday.
The Volunteers ran for a season-high 376 yards as the Vols ran to a 49-36 victory over Kentucky inside Neyland Stadium.
“Hard fought, very very good team victory,” Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones said. “I thought we played complementary football, and that was great to see.”
With the win, Tennessee stays in the race for the SEC East title. However, the Vols will need a LSU victory over Florida next week along with UT wins in the final two games to punch their ticket to Atlanta.
Senior Josh Dobbs was a catalyst for Tennessee as he accounted for 370 total yards and five touchdowns as he won his fourth straight game over the Wildcats.
“We just knew that we needed to run him, and Josh is really effective,” Jones said. “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. They provided the clean pocket for him a number of times but also the running lanes. I thought Josh did a good job of checking to the plays that we need to.”
Dobbs tallied 223 yards passing and 147 rushing yards.
The Vols also saw Alvin Kamara return from injury in style as the running back had 128 yards and two touchdowns, while John Kelly finished with 16 carries and 94 yards.
Tennessee finished with 599 total yards. The Vols and Wildcats combined for 1,204 total yards in the game.
After a three and out by the Vols on their opening drive, the Wildcats needed just two plays to reach the end zone on their first possession. Quarterback Stephen Johnson sprinted 75 yards on UK’s first play from scrimmage and Boom Williams finished the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run on the next play to give the Cats an early 7-0 lead.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as Dobbs marched the Vols 83 yards down the field on their next possession, capping the drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Josh Smith in the corner of the end zone. Dobbs had a 41-yard run earlier in the drive to get UT into scoring position.
A 37-yard field goal by Austin MacGinnis followed a nine-play drive that put UK up 10-7 late in the first quarter. The Wildcats converted a third-and-long from their own 40-yard line to keep the drive alive before Benny Snell found room down the left sideline for 27-yard rush to the Tennessee 16-yard line.
Dobbs continued to do damage with his legs as the Vols answered again on the following drive to take a 14-10 advantage. The senior evaded a couple of defenders before darting down the right sideline for a 35-yard gain to the 1-yard line. He punched it in two plays later. After another lengthy drive, Kentucky was forced to settle for a field goal early in the second quarter. The UT defense stiffened with a huge stop on third-and-goal from its own 1-yard line as Corey Vereen stuffed Snell for a 1-yard loss. After a delay of game penalty, MacGinnis split the uprights from 25 yards out to cut the deficit to one.
Tennessee responded by going right down the field again on its next possession, this time primarily through the air, for its second straight touchdown drive. Dobbs found Josh Malone for an 18-yard gain on third-and-6 and completed a screen pass to Tyler Byrd that he took 44 yards down the sideline to the UK 13-yard line. A couple plays later, Dobbs hit Ethan Wolf over the middle for a 10-yard touchdown pass to extend the Vols’ lead to eight midway through the second quarter.
Dobbs accounted for all three of the Vols’ touchdowns in the first half and finished with 126 yards passing and 64 yards rushing as UT led 21-13 at the break. Kamara also had a strong half with 59 yards rushing on just six carries in his first game back since getting hurt against Alabama last month.
The Wildcats scored on their first drive of the second half on MacGinnis’ third field goal of the afternoon, this one from 33 yards out. Williams broke off a 39-yard run on the first play of the half to move Kentucky in Tennessee territory before the drive stalled out in the red zone.
UT need just five plays to go 92 yards on its opening drive of the second half. The Vols dove into their bag of trick plays as Malone hauled in a 51-yard touchdown pass from Dobbs on a flea-flicker to make it 28-16.
The UT defense forced its second turnover of the game as UK was threatening score late in the third quarter. Cornerback Stephen Griffin knocked the ball loose from Snell at the Tennessee 4-yard line and LaTroy Lewis recovered the fumble to give the ball back to the Volunteers’ red-hot offense.
The offense didn’t take long to convert the turnover into points, going 96 yards in only six plays to increase the lead to 19 with just over three minutes to go in the quarter. Kamara finished the drive with a weaving 17-yard touchdown run to make it 35-16.
A long touchdown run by Jojo Kemp gave the Wildcats some life early in the fourth quarter. The senior running back took a handoff 71 yards to the house to cut the Tennessee lead to 13 with over 12 minutes to play. UK’s 2-point conversion attempt to make it an 11-point game failed.
Dobbs answered Kemp with a long touchdown run of his own to pump the lead back up to 20 points. Dobbs took a QB keeper off right tackle and outraced the Kentucky defenders to the checkerboards for his fifth total touchdown and second rushing score of the afternoon. The 45-yard scamper gave Dobbs a season-high in rushing yards and marked his fifth-career 100-yard rushing game. He finished with 147 yards rushing for the game.
Kamara’s second touchdown run of the afternoon with 7:12 to go all but put the game away. The redshirt junior broke a couple of tackles on his 29-yard run to the end zone to make it 49-22 Vols. The Wildcats added a pair of late scores on touchdown runs by Sihiem King and Johnson to account for the final score.
Micah Abernathy led the defense with 10 total tackles while Vereen finished with three tackles for loss, including two of Tennessee’s four sacks. Derek Barnett also added to his SEC-leading sack total with his 10th of the year. He is now just two sacks shy of tying Reggie White’s program record of 32.0.
Tennessee returns to action next Saturday as Missouri pays a trip to Neyland Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 on CBS.