Quarterback Joshua Dobbs can’t get his aerospace engineering degree and rocket out of Tennessee fast enough for Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops.
The Tennessee senior, who already had 11 touchdowns (seven passing and four rushing) and nearly 900 combined yards against the Cats in his first three games, charted big numbers again.
Behind Dobbs, the Volunteers won their fifth straight — and their 31st game in 32 tries over Kentucky — 49-36 on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
In this latest feat, Dobbs accounted for 370 yards (223 passing and 147 rushing) and five touchdowns as a part of a 599-yard day for the Volunteers, the most given up by Kentucky all season.
“I’m glad we don’t have to see him anymore,” said UK Coach Mark Stoops, whose team allowed 376 total rushing yards, its most since 2011. “He’s a heck of a player. That’s what I told him afterwards: He’s a heck of a player, and I congratulated him on a great game and glad I don’t have to see him again.”
The pain of the loss likely was compounded by Kentucky’s own video game numbers on offense, including 635 total yards, seventh most in school history.
Five different UK players managed at least 72 yards apiece and combined to amass a near school-record 443 yards on the ground against the Volunteers. It was just three yards off of the UK record.
While UK’s run game was impressive — including touchdowns from Boom Williams, Jojo Kemp, Stephen Johnson and Sihiem King — it was never enough, because the Cats ran freely all over the field but slammed on the brakes once they hit the red zone.
In six trips inside the Vols’ 20-yard line, Kentucky managed just two touchdowns, one coming late on a 2-yard run for Johnson when the game was out of reach.
“It’s just frustrating all around,” said Williams, who had 127 yards and a touchdown. “Didn’t get the win and came up short in the red zone a lot of times. Against a good team like this, some of those have to be a touchdown instead of three points.”
One red zone journey in particular was especially painful for the Cats.
Kentucky had its foot on the gas early in the third quarter. The Cats, trailing by five points, were ready to punch one in at the Tennessee 4-yard line, but Benny Snell picked a bad time for his first career fumble.
The Volunteers (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) responded with a back-breaking, 6-play, 96-yard drive and went up 35-16 on a 17-yard run by Alvin Kamara. Back from injury, the junior had 128 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
“It was important for us to stay close right there, and it’s obviously painful when you fumble inside the 10,” Stoops said of the turnover.
The injury bug that had bitten Tennessee this season infected Kentucky on Saturday, with the Cats losing several key players on both sides of the ball, most notably wide receiver Jeff Badet (hip) and top tackler Jordan Jones (back spasms).
There were various other dinged up players throughout the game, causing missed series and missed opportunities for Kentucky, which went into the game relatively healthy for this late in the season.
The injury report likely will be much longer after the Cats (5-5, 4-4) limp away from Knoxville with a trip to a bowl still on the line next week against Austin Peay coming up.
Kentucky got the start it wanted via a 75-yard career-best run by Johnson that set up an easy 10-yard touchdown rumble for Williams less than a minute into the game.
Dobbs followed that up with his own quarterback run, going 41 yards on first down and then three plays later, he found a wide open Josh Smith in the left corner of the end zone. The 24-yard catch evened things up 7-7 less than five minutes into the game.
A Tennessee penalty proved costly on the next drive, salvaging what looked to be a UK three-and-out and setting up 37-yard field goal for Austin MacGinnis to give UK the 10-7 lead.
The Volunteers took the lead for good, 14-10, on a 1-yard run from Dobbs, capping a six-play, 75-yard drive.
“He’s like a tight end playing quarterback, man,” linebacker Eli Brown said of Dobbs. “It’s hard to get him down and when he gets in the zone, you can’t stop him.”
Kentucky had a chance to reclaim the edge, but lost a yard on a third-and-goal play and Stoops opted for the more sure 25-yard chip shot for MacGinnis to keep pace.
So with 9:27 to go in the first half, UK trailed 14-13. Three minutes later, Tennessee was back in Kentucky territory when Dobbs found Byrd for a 44-yard pass. It set up a perfect 10-yard pass to tight end Ethan Wolfe in the middle of the end zone.
“There’s a number of times where we answered their scores and that was big because football is a game of momentum, and you’re responsible for creating your own momentum,” Tennessee Coach Butch Jones said.
Kentucky had a chance to cut into the Vols’ 21-13 halftime advantage, thanks to a late pick by Derrick Baity.
UK’s offense found midfield with 5 seconds to play, but the Cats couldn’t convert with a Johnson Hail Mary in traffic landing in the hands of Jauan Jennings as time expired.
Johnson completed 12 of 29 passes for 192 yards. He ran for a career-best 72 yards.
On defense, Kentucky was led by Mike Edwards’ 12 tackles. Denzil Ware added nine tackles, including 2.5 for loss. Micah Abernathy had 10 tackles for the Volunteers, including one for loss.
Austin Peay at Kentucky
4:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network)