LEXINGTON, Ky. — One, a much-maligned quarterback of the offense. The other, a stalwart quarterback of the defense.
Guarantano came off the bench to start the second half in relief of an ineffective Brian Maurer and immediately helped rally the Vols with a pair of touchdown drives. Bituli was the man credited with a fourth-down stop at the goal line on the Wildcats' final possession, shutting down quarterback Lynn Bowden 2 yards shy of the end zone.
The victory improved Tennessee to 5-5 for the season and 3-3 in Southeastern Conference play. The Vols have an open date next weekend before playing at Missouri on Nov. 23, needing a win against the Tigers or Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale Thanksgiving weekend at Neyland Stadium for bowl eligibility.
A level record didn't seem anywhere near possible at the beginning of Saturday's game, when Kentucky (4-5, 2-5) took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards on 17 plays, eating 10 minutes and 18 seconds off the clock. Tennessee aided the drive by jumping offside twice, with one of the penalties putting the Wildcats closer to a first down and the other producing a first down.
The Vols' offense was listless in a quick three-and-out series, and a blocked punt led to a short Wildcats drive and a 22-yard touchdown run by Kavosiey Smoke.
Back after recovering from concussions, Maurer was 7-for-16 passing for 98 yards. When he did move the ball, penalties killed the Vols. In one case, lineman Trey Smith was called for a personal foul after they had driven to the 11-yard line, and they had to settle for a Brent Cimaglia field goal.
But too many times the freshman didn't move the ball, which is what led to Guarantano taking over after halftime.
"I don't know why he's able to do that," Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. "I think he's mature. He knows what he's trying to do. He's smart. He done a great job tonight.
"He's done a good job coming off the bench all year. I just think he's a guy that wanted to play well tonight, and he did."
Guarantano threw for only 112 yards but rushed for a career-high (and team-high on this night) 30. He completed his first seven passes — two for touchdowns with impressive throws to Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer, who made even better catches. Then he turned the game over to the defense, which was led by Bituli, who had 19 tackles, including the final one.
"Daniel is smart, tough, dependable, loves Tennessee," Pruitt said. "He's a great teammate, a great leader, instinctive, and you want to have everybody on the team be like Daniel.
"I can't find one characteristic or intangible that isn't great. The way he practices, carries himself, goes about his business. He's a phenomenal leader and a great young man."