Tennessee fell to 3-5 on the season, and 0-5 in SEC play, with a 29-26 loss at Kentucky on Saturday night.
The Good: The running of Tennessee’s stable of runningbacks. So what are you going to do when you’re without one of the SEC’s best runningbacks in John Kelly? You turn to “the next man up,” as UT coach Butch Jones is fond of saying. True freshman Ty Chandler finished with 120 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, becoming the first Tennessee freshman to run for two scores in a game since Jalen Hurd did it in 2014. The most impressive part of Chandler’s effort was the punishing blows he delivered to Kentucky defenders. For a guy who is known for his break-away speed, Chandler has a little nasty in him. His stat line would’ve been much more impressive if an 80-yard touchdown run hadn’t been called back due to penalty. Sophomore Carlin Fils-Aime finished with 73 yards on 13 carries, and freshman Tim Jordan had a 12-yard run. Collectively, Tennessee’s runners finished with 203 yards. Take away seven sacks, and the total would’ve been significantly more. As a team, Tennessee averaged an unimpressive 3.7 yards per carry, but Chandler and Fils-Aime averaged 5.5 yards and 5.6 yards, respectively. On the offensive side of the ball, it’s easy to find under-achieving units: the quarterbacks, the offensive line, the wide receivers. But no one is saying that about the runningbacks. Runningbacks coach Robert Gillespie is worth his salary and then some. Hopefully the next head coach will look at retaining him.
The Bad: Tennessee’s offensive line gave up seven sacks and played abysmally in the second half. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was shaky, even though he completed 18 of 23 passes. Tennessee’s defense was very suspect against the quarterback read option. Daniel Bituli’s extra-curricular activity that resulted in his ejection was a matter of very poor judgment. Tennessee’s coaches failed to adjust very well late in the game. UT’s red zone offense continued to struggle.
The Ugly: Officiating. The SEC is hopefully going to take a serious look at the blanket unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was called early in the first quarter. It was unprecedented and inexcusable, and ultimately led to four players being needlessly ejected. There is keeping tight control on the game, and then there’s that. And that was uncalled for. Tennessee should appeal the first-half suspension of Rashaan Gaulden, who will be forced to miss the first half of next week’s homecoming game against Southern Miss at Neyland Stadium.