Kentucky and Tennessee each had two players thrown out of Saturday’s game for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the ejections came after a rare ruling by officials earlier in the night.
UK defensive back Davonte Robinson and Tennessee linebacker Daniel Bituli were tossed late in the second quarter after exchanging shoves on a special teams play. UK wide receiver Tavin Richardson and UT defensive back Rashaan Gaulden were thrown out in the fourth quarter after an altercation that followed a big gain by the Cats.
The four players were ejected because it was technically the second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on each.
In the first quarter, a fight broke out between the Cats and the Volunteers following a touchback. No players were ejected as a result of that fracas, and officials decided to call unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against every player on both teams, whether they were on the field for the play or not.
“I haven’t seen anything like that,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said of the blanket unsportsmanlike conduct call. “We tried to tell them, I mean, it’s about playing the game, between the white lines. And I think the officials did a good job because once (the chipiness) started early, they were putting their thumb on it. So that’s why it was called so close and I can’t argue with that.”
Robinson — a former standout at Henry Clay High School in Lexington — and Bituli were both whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct following their dust-up a quarter later, and both were thrown out of the game. The same thing happened to Richardson and Gaulden in the fourth quarter.
NCAA rules state that “any coach, player or identified squad member in uniform who commits two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in the same game shall be disqualified.”
UK linebacker Jordan Jones said he wasn’t aware of what had actually been called when it happened, adding that the Wildcats’ coaches made their players aware of the ruling a short time later. He also said he’d never seen a call like that.
“Some guys just get — and I’m one of those guys, too — I’m glad I didn’t get kicked out,” Jones said of the zero-tolerance nature of the game after the first penalty call. “Emotions get the best of you sometimes, especially in football.”
Tennessee defensive lineman Kendal Vickers said he wasn’t aware of the ramifications of the original ruling until halftime. “Coach came in the locker room and told us that we can’t have any unsportsmanlike penalties.”
Volunteers linebacker Colton Jumper said he’d never seen a call like that.
“That’s something new to me,” he said. “I’d never heard about that, but it’s just something you’ve got to have in the back of your mind and you’ve just got to stay composed.”
UK defensive leader Denzil Ware acknowledged that some players might have had to approach the game a little differently after the first-quarter ruling.
“We knew that, and we got a couple of hotheads — they calmed down, they throwed some water on them,” Ware said. “We just played ball. And, at the end of the day, got the victory. We did what it took.”
Kentucky won the game, 29-26.
The blanket unsportsmanlike conduct ruling against every player on both teams is a rare one, but it’s happened before.
Last season, every player from Louisiana State and Missouri was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after a scuffle in the second quarter. Later in the game, LSU offensive lineman Andy Dodd and Missouri defensive lineman Charles Harris were ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and they were both ejected.
Neither player was suspended for the following game.