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Football Season Coverage

SEC Storylines of Week 11: The More Things Change…

The college football season gets another week older, and many eyes will be focused on the SEC. Here is a rundown of the key storylines to watch for in Week 10 as Kentucky takes on the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.

1. Georgia’s Last Regular Season Test

In the biggest SEC game of the week eleven the No. 24 Auburn Tigers will take on the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens.

Georgia is of course coming off their most impressive victory of the season after easily defeating Kentucky on the road thus clinching the SEC East and a sport in the Conference Title Game. Despite some drama in the East, the SEC Title Game will again be Alabama vs. Georgia.

However, there is still very much at stake for the Bulldogs. At No. 5 in the committee’s polls they are the SEC’s last best chance to have two teams in the playoff (I don’t think LSU stands much of a chance unless some luck falls their way).

Their matchup against Auburn is their last true test until they face off with Alabama in Atlanta. No offense to Massachusetts or Georgia Tech, but the Bulldogs should handle those teams with ease.

A loss to Auburn will all but eliminate Georgia from making the playoff so today’s contest in Athens is incredibly meaningful. Don’t forget, the Tigers have looked pretty good since their disastrous back-to-back losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee.

Now they are coming off a huge victory over then-ranked Texas A&M. Even more impressive is that Jarrett Stidham finally looked like himself as completed 18 or 29 passes for 239 yards, 2 TD’s, and no picks.

I like going with quarterbacks who are on a hot streak, and while it is true that Jake Fromm is also playing well Auburn is out for revenge after losing last year’s SEC Title game to the Bulldogs, thus missing out on the playoffs.

Georgia is good, and they are playing at home. However, the current 14.5 spread for them is entirely too high especially considering it’s a rivalry game. I expect a game that will be closer than two touchdowns and Auburn will cover the spread. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Tigers throw a wrench into the playoff picture and even defeat Georgia on Saturday.

2. Florida Tries to Bounce Back….

This Florida team is officially the weirdest team in the SEC. How can they be good enough to beat LSU and Mississippi State but turn around and get throttled by Missouri at home??

Last week’s crushing 38-17 defeat was one of the stranger scores that I’ve seen in the SEC this season. Now the Gators sit at 6-3 on the season and 4-3 in conference play. Their contest against South Carolina this week will decide which team will finish third in the SEC East.

Not too bad for a team that finished 4-7 last season, eh? Dan Mullen’s first season has been a mostly positive one. With Idaho and Florida State still on the schedule it seems like the Gators will win eight regular season games, and if they defeat the Gamecocks this weekend the total will be up to nine.

Feleipe Franks hasn’t been totally terrible at quarterback this season and running backs Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett have formed a nice duo at that position as well.

The future is bright in Gainesville, and if the Gators capture a third-place finish in the East this weekend then they will have a nice amount of momentum heading into bowl season.

3. …And So Does Kenutucky

After being just one game away from the SEC Title Game, the Wildcats have crashed back down to Earth after Georgia issued them a beatdown last week. At the end of the day, the Bulldogs just have a more talented roster and that’s okay. Kentucky may get there in the coming years.

In the meantime, the Wildcats are playing for respect and a nice bowl game. They have sealed second place in the SEC East and with three games left in the season they can still finish 10-2.

This week presents a tough challenge for UK. First, they will be coming off a demoralizing defeat and those aren’t always easy to come back from. Second, they will be playing in Knoxville which is never an easy task.

Of course, the Volunteers aren’t necessarily a good team, but they have talent on defense and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is no slouch.

Luckily for the Wildcats Terry Wilson seems to be playing a bit more comfortable in the pocket as he had a pretty good game against Georgia. He now sits at No. 11 in quarterback rating in the SEC out of 14 quarterbacks, so he is improving.

I’m expecting Josh Allen to be one of the key players in this matchup as he should wreak havoc on a bad Tennessee offensive line today. There are zero excuses for Kentucky to lose this game so I’m calling for them to win and cover the spread.

4. Keep an Eye on Mississippi State vs. Alabama

This is actually the second ranked matchup in the SEC today, but there is pretty much zero hype behind this game. The reason being that the Bulldogs are playing on the road against what might just be the best college football team in history.

Last year Mississippi State gave the Crimson Tide one of their biggest challenges of the season. However, despite a perfect game plan and home field advantage, Alabama was still victorious.

Considering how much better Nick Saban’s team is this just season, I just do not see how the Bulldogs can win this game in Tuscaloosa.

However, this is college football and stranger things have happened. After coming off such a huge victory over LSU, Alabama could come out flat in the first half and give Mississippi State a chance to be in this game through the second half.

Also, if any team in the SEC is going to stop the Crimson Tide’s offense it will be the Bulldogs. They have the best defense in the conference as they only give up 278 yards per game (6th in the country). If Mississippi State can create pressure on Tua Tagovailoa often, then this could be close in the fourth quarter.

However, as long as the quarterback matchup is Nick Fitzgerald against Tua, Alabama will win this game. This is literally a matchup between the best passing quarterback in the SEC and the worst and I expect that to show today.

5. Quarterbacks Start to Find Their Stride

 A few weeks ago, I wrote in this weekly column that the quarterback play in the SEC has been extremely disappointing outside of Tua.

However, the play of just about every quarterback in this conference has improved since then. The biggest improvement belongs to that of Drew Lock who now sits at No. 5 in quarterback rating in the SEC.

South Carolina’s Jake Bentley is also starting to live up to his preseason hype as he sits right behind Lock at No. 6 in quarterback rating. This is thanks in part to a huge performance last week against Ole Miss in which he passed for 363 yards and two touchdowns.

Speaking of Ole Miss, Jordan Ta’amu now leads the SEC in overall passing yardage with 3,001 yards. That is good for fifth overall in the nation. Of course, fellow Hawaiian Tagovailoa is having a Heisman Trophy candidate season himself.

Even Jarrett Stidham has managed to turn things around a bit as previously mentioned. Overall, this group of quarterbacks has taken a noticeable step forward over the past few weeks. This is a very important storyline to follow as we near bowl season. The play of these quarterbacks will most likely determine just how many bowl games the SEC will win this season.

Check Out what the Cats will wear against Tennessee

Check Out what the Cats will wear against Tennessee

When Kentucky takes on Tennesee today in Knoxville, they will wear a never before seen uniform combination.

The Cats will be rocking a blue helmet with the blue facemask and no stripe, only worn against Mississipi State, and all-white the rest of the way.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 pm ET on the SEC Network.


What I Hate about Tennessee

What I Hate about Tennessee

A wise man once said, “If you have hate in your heart, let it out.”  Before Kentucky takes on the Tennessee Volunteers, I had to get out all of the hate I have for Tennessee.  The list is lengthy, but not long enough.

Tennessee Orange — The color orange is not objectively hideous.  It goes great as a trim, a la Auburn, but the Pantone Tennessee chose to use is absolutely disgusting.  It burns pupils.  Like a hunter’s garb, it’s used to stand out from the crowd, except in Tennessee’s case it’s to tell every outsider, “I cheer for a women’s basketball school.”

The Fulmer Cup — So many Tennessee players used to have run-ins with the law that there’s now an unofficial award given to the college football program with the lengthiest criminal records.  Rutgers leads the current standings.

Erik Ainge — The Tennessee quarterback was generous with the football, mostly to opposing defenses.  He threw three interceptions against Kentucky in 2007, but that all was outweighed by seven touchdowns.  That’s right, SEVEN touchdowns. I learned to hate Tennessee after the 52-50 loss in quadruple overtime at Commonwealth, one that could’ve ended with a UK win in the second overtime.  If only Lones Seiber’s potential game-winning kick wasn’t blocked by Dan Williams.

Tyler Bray —  You can’t really hate Tyler Bray — after all, he did lose to UK —  unless you owned the car he pelted beer bottles with from his apartment balcony.

Peyton Manning — He once tea-bagged a trainer. People forget that.

Derek Dooley’s Pants — I can’t decide what’s uglier, Dooley’s pants or Pearl’s orange jacket?

Entitlement — Tennessee fans believe they are God’s gift to football.  They were good when Phil Fulmer was calling the shots.  He won a National Championship and had nine ten-win seasons.  Since he was forced out ten years ago, Tennessee has not finished in the top 15 or won ten games in a season.  A ten-win season isn’t happening anytime soon.

Smoky — Of all the cool dog mascots in the SEC, Smoky is the worst.

Champions of Life — I hate that Tennessee fired Butch Jones, the SEC’s Champion of Life.  However, I will thank them for hiring him after the UK search committee decided he couldn’t cut it at Kentucky.

They Low-Down.

They Dirty.

They Some Snitches.

Third Down for What — Lil Jon isn’t even from Tennessee, yet he created an obnoxious third down anthem that rang throughout Neyland Stadium.

Eric Berry — “Third Down for What” isn’t even the worst Tennessee football song.  That title belongs to the Eric Berry Halle Berry remix.

Rocky Top — I take it back.  Rocky Top is the worst Tennessee song.  It’s not just the worst Tennessee song, it’s the worst song ever.  When the unending anthem is punctuated by a “WOO!” an angel loses its wings.

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Kentucky ends SEC play with history on the line in a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Cats have not won in Neyland Stadium in 34 years.  Their 17-12 victory over the Vols gave UK an 8-3 record in 1984, the last time a Kentucky team won eight regular season games.  After ending the losing streak to Florida, it’s time for two more streaks to die.

Unlike previous meetings, Kentucky is a six-point favorite against the 4-5 Vols, whose only SEC victory came against Auburn.  Needing two more wins for a bowl berth, Jeremy Pruitt could use a win over a top 25 team to get over the hump and gain the seal of approval from the fans.

The game sets up to be a low-scoring affair.  Tennessee’s offense is ranked at the bottom of the SEC in three of the four major statical categories.  After their worst performance of the season against Georgia, UK’s elite defense will rediscover their mojo in Knoxville.

To completely rid the filth from the Georgia loss, Kentucky’s offense needs to get its groove back.  Since the Bye Week, the offense has not completely clicked.  There have been games where the passing game led the way, while the rushing attack struggled and vice versa.  As the Cats head into the final leg of the season, the UK offense needs to find offensive momentum in Knoxville.  Against one of the worst defenses they’ll see all season, the opportunity is there for the taking.

Kentucky could finish with its best SEC record since 1977.  We’ll find out if the Cats can take care of business when the ball is kicked off at 3:30 on the SEC Network.

Get Hyped

It’s been a rough week for the BBN.  Let KY Wildcats TV take away all the pain to get you prepared for the Tennessee Volunteers.

The Schedule

  • 12:30 — The KSR Pregame Show Begins on 630 WLAP
  • 1:15 — The Cat Walk at Gate 7
  • 1:30 — Countdown to Kickoff w/Christi Thomas, Jeremy Jarmon and Dusty Bonner
  • 3:30 — Kickoff on the SEC Network

How to Watch and Listen

Taylor Zarzour, John Congemi and Kris Budden are on the call for the SEC Network. If you’re stuck on the road and can’t watch, there are multiple ways to listen to The Voice of the Wildcats.

  • AM: 840 WHAS, 630 WLAP
  • FM: 98.1 WBUL
  • Satellite: XM-192 and Sirius-119
  • Online: iHeart Radio

No Darius West

Bunchy Stallings will not be sidelined after his ejection vs. Georgia.  The Cats will be missing safety Darius West for the first half after the senior was flagged for targeting in the second half of last week’s game.  Davonte Robinson will start in West’s absence.  UK’s Defensive MVP from the Georgia game, don’t expect any drop-off with Robinson on the field.

Two Potential Milestones

A pair of seniors could enter the UK record books this afternoon.  Mike Edwards is seven tackles away from joining Kentucky’s 300-tackle club.  He would be just the second defensive back to reach the milestone.  Josh Allen could stand alone atop the record books.  He needs three tackles for loss and two sacks to break each UK career record.

Tailgate with UK Alumni

The UK Alumni Association is hosting a pregame party tomorrow afternoon.  The festivities begin at 12:30 in Knoxville’s Market Square at Scruffy City Hall.  There will be food and drink specials, and a $10 shuttle service to Neyland Stadium.

Cats Win

It was ugly, but Kentucky got their first win of the season last night at Rupp Arena.  It’s easier to forget all of the times they dropped the basketball after you watch the highlights from the 71-59 win.

An Elite Official Visitor

John Calipari has a special guest on campus this weekend.  After Coach Cal made a few trips to the West Coast, Jaden McDaniels traveled east for an official visit in Lexington, Kentucky.  The 2019 power forward is considered the No. 4 player in America.

Louisville Lost

What’s new? Bobby Petrino probably won’t last much longer after the Cards’ 54-23 loss to Syracuse. It’s not just that they got blown out.  Petrino played three quarterbacks, including a walk-on, in the first half.   Louisville ended four-straight possessions with turnovers and committed 17 total penalties for 125 yards.  The implosion is hilarious, but unfortunately, I fear we won’t get to give Petrino a proper sendoff on the final weekend of the college football season.

Today’s College Football Schedule

  • Noon: Ole Miss at Texas A&M on CBS
  • Noon: Wisconsin #20 Penn State on ABC
  • Noon: #10 Ohio State at #18 Michigan State on Fox
  • Noon: South Carolina at #15 Florida on ESPN
  • Noon: TCU at #9 West Virginia on FS1
  • Noon: Vanderbilt at Missouri on the SEC Network
  • 3:30: Oklahoma State at #6 Oklahoma on Fox
  • 3:30: #8 Washington State at Colorado on ESPN
  • 7:00: #25 Auburn at #5 Georgia on ESPN
  • 7:00: Miami at Georgia Tech on ESPN2
  • 7:30: Florida State at #3 Notre Dame on NBC
  • 7:30: #19 Texas at Texas Tech on Fox
  • 8:00: #2 Clemson at #17 Boston College on ABC
  • 10:30: Cal at USC on ESPN

KHSAA Playoff Football Scores

The Regional Finals are set after Friday night’s football games.

  • Scott County 28, Frederick Douglass 27
  • Moore 26, Mercer County 2
  • Ballard 34, McCracken County 18
  • Conner 20, Cooper 19
  • St. X 35, Butler 20
  • Madison Central 13, Tates Creek 10
  • Williamsburg 45, Hazard 27
  • DeSales 21, Newport Central Catholic 14 OT
  • Belfry 55, Lex Cath 51
  • Elizabethtown 27, Paducah Tilghman 21
  • Franklin County 27, Wayne County 21
  • Knox Central 20, Shelby County 14

WATCH: The Tennessee hype video is here

WATCH: The Tennessee hype video is here

There’s a basketball game coming up in just a bit, but I wouldn’t blame you if you’re looking ahead to tomorrow’s football game at Tennessee. KyWildcatsTV’s hype video for the game includes some great highlights, including the fight that broke out during last year’s battle in Lexington. Remember that?

Beat the Vols.

Flashback Friday: The Last Time UK Won at Tennessee

Flashback Friday: The Last Time UK Won at Tennessee

It has been 34 years since the Kentucky Wildcats have won a football game in Knoxville.  UK’s 1984 season finale ended with a bang.

Kentucky punched Tennessee in the mouth on the first play of the game.  David Thompson forced a fumble to put the Cats in scoring position.  George Adams punched the ball into the end zone a few plays later and the Cats never looked back.  Kentucky upended the 7-2 Vols 17-12 to seal a spot in the Hall of Fame Game.

Kentucky’s players celebrated by hoisting Jerry Claibourne onto their shoulders and carrying the victorious head coach off the field .  Just two years after an 0-10-1 season, Kentucky won eight regular season games to complete one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college football history.

The Cats ultimately finished the season 9-3, ranked No. 19 after a 20-19 win over Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Game.  For more, you can watch a complete replay of Kentucky’s win on the UTV network below.

Hal Mumme will coach former Wildcats in the Alliance of American Football

Air Raid innovator Hal Mumme has a new coaching gig.

Last month the former Kentucky head coach resigned as Jackson State’s offensive coordinator.  This spring Mumme will be calling plays for Mike Singletary’s Memphis Express in the Alliance of American Football. Not only will he bring an entertaining offense to the new league, but Mumme and Singletary will be quite a charismatic combination on the sideline.

Mumme’s addition gives Memphis Express another former Wildcat.  There are currently four Cats on the Express roster: wide receiver Ryan Timmons, offensive tackle Cole Mosier, defensive back Blake McClain and defensive tackle Matt Elam.  I think the BBN has a new professional football team to follow.

The fledgling professional spring football league will kick off its inaugural season February 10.

Fan of the Day Want UK/Tennessee Picks

Fan of the Day Want UK/Tennessee Picks

Tomorrow, Kentucky will attempt to do something it hasn’t done since 1984: beat Tennessee in Neyland Stadium. Here’s a roundup of national picks for the game to help you count down the hours ’til kickoff.

CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee: Kentucky

Kentucky has never been in this situation before, competing in a game after losing the de facto SEC East championship game. Leaders like linebacker Josh Allen, running back Benny Snell and the rest of the veteran Wildcats have to make sure the entire roster knows that the first New Year’s Six Bowl in program history is staring them straight in the face. Meanwhile, the Vols sit at 4-5 and would love to notch this one to make a bowl game in coach Jeremy Pruitt’s first year more attainable. The running game will get going, Allen will have a big game against a fragile Tennessee offensive line and Kentucky will ugly its way to a double-digit win. Pick: Kentucky (-6)

CBS Sports Straight Up

CBS Sports Against The Spread

247 Sports: Kentucky

Chris Hummer: I’ll happily take Kentucky here. The Wildcats have trouble scoring (99th in PPG), but Tennessee really has trouble scoring (102nd in ppg). Kentucky’s defense, despite a bit of trouble against Georgia, travels. Expect the Wildcats to bounce back, securing the program’s first eight-win effort since 2007 … Kentucky 21, Tennessee 14.

Brad Crawford: Here’s the Vegas oddsmakers’ not-so-fast of the week. The Wildcats are favored at Neyland for the first time ever and they’re coming off a tough loss to Georgia that squandered an SEC East title opportunity. I want to lean Vols in an upset here since that line scares me, but there’s no way Tennessee will be able to keep quarterback Jarrett Guarantano upright against the second-best pass rush it has faced all season. Kentucky ugly … Kentucky 16, Tennessee 10.

USA Today

The Sporting News’ Bill Bender: Tennessee

It’s up to Kentucky to establish itself after missing its shot against Georgia last week. The Volunteers have two more opportunities to win their first SEC home game under Jeremy Pruitt, and this is the spot to do it. We’ll call a mild upset and make the Wildcats prove it. Tennessee wins 24-21 in an UPSET.

Athlon Sports’ Rob McVey: Kentucky

This has all the makings of a “trap game” for Kentucky after last week’s monumental let down. History isn’t exactly on the Wildcats’ side either, given their poor track record against the Vols in Knoxville. But there is a reason why the Wildcats are favored by six points on Saturday. Last week notwithstanding, the Kentucky defense has proven itself to be elite. And the Wildcats have a running back in Benny Snell Jr. capable of wearing down an undermanned Tennessee defense that has been wildly inconsistent all season. The Vols should put up a good fight, but a superior Kentucky team will rebound with its first win in Neyland Stadium in 34 years.

Prediction: Kentucky 20, Tennessee 16

ESPN Football Power Index: Kentucky


Today on KSR: UK’s returns to the court for its home opener

Today on KSR: UK’s returns to the court for its home opener

Happy Friday, folks! Kentucky returns to the court tonight for the first time since the game no one wants to talk about, and thank goodness! The taste left in our mouth from Tuesday was sour and disgusting and I think nearly every UK fan was ready for the Cats to play another basketball game ASAP. But our wait is over and the Cats host Southern Illinois at 7 p.m. tonight.

Cal previewed the Salukis:

As you may expect, John Calipari said that Southern Illinois is good enough to beat the Cats, but his Thursday press conference focused as more of a followup on where things stand after Tuesday.

But getting away from tonight’s game and Tuesday’s loss, Cal was asked about Christian Dawkins’ emails, which mentioned potential payment plans to two UK players (one current and one former). Cal didn’t seem overly concerned about Ashton Hagans’ eligibility or the eligibility status of former Cat Jarred Vanderbilt:

“The best thing about coaching here is you coach basketball. What you’re talking about, our administration and compliance are so thorough, doubly thorough, that I trust everything is fine. They get parents involved. I mean, they go to a point where it’s uncomfortable for me, you shouldn’t be having to do this. But then this.. you say, ‘Hey, I’m glad you guys do that.’”

It was an informative presser from Cal. Read about the five most newsworthy things HERE.

Stoops talked, too:

Cal wasn’t the only UK head coach to speak to the media on Thursday. We heard from Mark Stoops for the last time until Saturday as the Cats take on Tennessee. Stoops said that Tennessee was low down, they dirty, they some snitches.

OK, he didn’t actually say that, but it would have been pretty cool if he did. Stoops’ most newsworthy tidbit from Thursday was talking about the kicker situation. The Cats are planning on using Chance Poore, which means he could only play in one game the rest of the season before having his red shirt taken away. In my opinion this is UK’s last possible loss in the regular season. Use Poore on Saturday and have him sit against Middle Tennessee and UofL. The Cats should be able to get by both those opponents without Poore, and then you use him one final time in the bowl game.

WATCH: Mark Stoops Speaks for the Final Time Before Tennessee

Heartbreak for Booker:

Former Kentucky great Devin Booker lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Boston Celtics. Booker finished with  a season-high 38 points and nine assists, but Marcus Morris’ three at the end of regulation forced overtime and the Celtics overtook Phoenix for a 116-109 win out west.

The Suns have fallen to 2-9.

In other UK in NBA news- SGA had a career high 19 points and it’s clear he’s going to shine just like he did at Kentucky.

Eric Bledsoe had 26 points in 26 minutes for the Bucks.

Not Phoenix’s only loss:

Phoenix Rising FC fell to Louisville City FC 1-0 at Lynn Stadium in Louisville last evening. LouCity’s captured the USL Cup for the second consecutive season becoming the first team to go back-to-back in the USL.

It had been an up-and-down year for LouCity as the club lost its head coach during the middle of the season, took weeks to hire a replacement and was spent after a long run in the US Open Cup. But patience paid. Once the club hired John Hackworth the team regrouped and went on a monster run to finish the season and coasted through the USL playoffs once again.

It was another special night for LouCity and only one more season until they open their new stadium in 2020.

Former Cat George Davis IV had a tremendous game for LouCity, but it was Luke Spencer who propelled the boys in purple to the lead.

Petrino’s swan song?:

The buzz around Louisville is that tonight’s game against Syracuse may be his last for the Cardinals. UofL is having an abysmal season and currently stand at 2-7 on the year. UofL fans have Jeff Brohm fever, but even if the Cards can’t land the Purdue head coach, they want something different than Petrino.

The Cardinals are 21-point underdogs and don’t be surprised to see AD Vince Tyra try and stop the bleeding if UofL is blown out once again. Louisville has lost several commitments in an already underwhelming 2019 class, and now many players are quitting the team or requesting transfers.

Things aren’t pretty in Louisville and Petrino is receiving all the blame. Of course I hate this move because I wanted to make sure the Cats beat Petrino at Cardinal Stadium to end the season.

If it turns out to be the end, adios Petrino. Don’t let the door hit ya.

Jaden McDaniels starts his official visit:

Five-star wing/word Jaden McDaniels will travel from Seattle to Lexington to start his official visit to UK. It’s McDaniels’ fourth official visit and an incredibly important one for the Cats.

Five-star UK target starts official visit to Kentucky tomorrow

KSR is live at The Ketch:

Check out the KSR crew at The Ketch in Lex. It’s a huge Kentucky sports weekend and nothing will get you ready for it like traveling to a KSR remote. It’s been a tough six days for UK sports, but things change this weekend starting tonight.

WATCH: Mark Stoops Speaks for the Final Time Before Tennessee

After Thursday’s walk-through, Mark Stoops met with the media for the final time before the Cats take on the Vols.

Stoops did not drop any Earth-shattering news during the six-minute conversation.  He commended his players’ attitude and preparation throughout the week, and did not have any additional injuries to report.  Stoops plans on using Chance Poore to kick this Saturday.  He’s unsure if that will change to keep a potential redshirt.  “We’re rolling. We’ll figure it out next week.”

See everything he said below.

Scouting Report: Tennessee Volunteers

Scouting Report: Tennessee Volunteers

(Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)

Kentucky is fresh off a very tough loss but there is no time to sulk in the SEC. Next up is a road trip to Knoxville to take on a Tennessee squad that is fighting and clawing for bowl eligibility in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season on Rocky Top.

It’s the game a lot of Kentucky fans want to win the most each season and for consecutive meetings the Wildcats enter as the betting favorite over the Volunteers. UK still has a chance to have a special season but to do that they must pick up the win on the road in Neyland Stadium.

Nuts and Bolts

Man, it has been a rough run for this Tennessee football program. Philip Fulmer took over at his alma mater full-time in 1993 and in the next six seasons the Vols won two SEC titles and a national championship. Fulmer looked set to have the Big Orange on top of the college football world for the very distant future.

Then things went south.

Phillip Fulmer would lead the Vols to two more SEC East titles, but Tennessee would only have one top 10 finish after winning the national championship in 1998. A year after winning 10 games and the SEC East in 2oo7, the former Tennessee offensive lineman was let go of his duties the next season following his second losing mark in four years.

What happened next no one saw coming.

In this decade, Tennessee has had at least six losses in seven seasons and the 2018 squad is just one loss away from that mark. Outside of 2015, Tennessee has not posted a winning record in SEC play and the one time powerhouse is searching to find itself.

After a somewhat embarrassing coaching search in November and December, Phillip Fulmer was welcomed back into the athletic department and was named the athletic director. His first move was to hire a football coach and after a week or so he landed on Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

So far the results have been much of the same.

Tennessee enters Week 11 with a 4-5 record with winnable games remaining on the schedule. The Vols are trying to get back to the postseason and getting to a bowl would be a significant achievement for Jeremy Pruitt. The former Alabama high school coach has been around the block a few times and he knows what it takes to win. Pruitt ran the defense under Jimbo Fisher at Florida State following the departure of Mark Stoops and then moved to Georgia to work for Mark Richt for two seasons. Unlike other Saban disciples, he’s seen the cake baked different ways to produce a winner.

You know all about the streak that UK broke in 2011, but since that game Kentucky is just 1-5 against Tennessee. The Vols own the series lead by a count of 79-25-9. Kentucky has not won in Neyland Stadium since 1984.

Out in the desert, Kentucky is currently a 5.5 point favorite with a total of 42. That’s a projected final score of around 24-18. During the Mark Stoops era, Kentucky has never been an SEC road favorite.

Offensive Breakdown

In his first significant hire, Jeremy Pruitt headed out to the west coast to find the man to run his offense. Tyson Helton, the younger brother of USC head coach Clay Helton, worked under Jeff Brohm for two seasons at WKU before moving to USC to serve in a co-coordinator role. With Helton, Tennessee is utilizing a pro-style scheme with a play-caller that had been apart of some of college football’s most prolific passing offenses.

In his first season, the results have been promising. Jarrett Guarantano has taken significant strides and the dual-threat prospect out of New Jersey has developed into strictly a pocket passer. Guarantano has improved on both his yards per attempt average and completion percentage in the new scheme and was very effective in the road upset over Auburn.

The passing game has been bolstered by two very good outside receivers. Both Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings are physical outside targets who have made plays vertically all season. The jump ball and back shoulder fades are a big part of this offense.

Outside of them, Tennessee does not have a dependable possession receiver to go to in the slot and tight end is a big question mark. If you can cover outside the numbers, this Tennessee passing game should not scare you. This may be what UK does best.

Part of the reason the Tennessee offense becomes ineffective is because of the lack of balance. For the season, the Vols rank last in the SEC with just 127.7 rushing yards per game. Their yards per carry average of 3.4 ranks 117th in the FBS. This has been a major problem with the offense all season.

Tim Jordan leads the team with 414 rushing yards but the Vols have been fishing for answers at the running back position. Four different players have received over 40 carries on the season with no one as a legit weapon to this point in the season. The contributions have been disappointing, but they are not getting much room to operate.

Tennessee’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries with their starting center being lost for the season early in the schedule and potential All-American Trey Smith now out for the year. The superstar sophomore dominated in the game against Kentucky last season, but is now being held out of all football activities due to a blood clot in his lungs. In the new scheme, it has been quite a challenge for this group.

Not only is Tennessee not creating lanes for their running backs, they are not protecting the quarterback in pass situations on top of it. UT’s sack rate of 8.5% ranks 109th in the FBS and this has contributed heavily to the offenses inefficiencies. Kentucky recorded seven sacks against the Vols last season and they could put up another big number on Saturday.

As a whole, Tennessee can hurt you when they have time to setup the vertical passing game. The problem has been finding balance and consistently being able to protect when the time comes to take some deep shots. In addition to allowing sacks, this offense has been very bad at preventing tackles for loss in the run game.

The Vols are dead last in the SEC in scoring offense and 13th in yards per play. This will be the least productive FBS offense UK has seen since the week one win over Central Michigan.

Defensive Breakdown

At all stops during his college career, Jeremy Pruitt has used a 3-4 scheme and that is exactly what Tennessee is rolling with in 2018. Similar to Georgia, UT will run the same looks and try to do the same things but they don’t have the personnel to pull it off.

The Volunteers are well coached on this side of the football, but currently the roster does not have the talent to do what this defense is asking them to do. Therefore, Tennessee isn’t horrible at anything but they are also not specifically good at anything.

Opponents are putting up 26.7 points per game and 5.8 yards per play. Both of these rank near the bottom of the pack in the SEC. The Vols have played some really good offenses in Alabama, Georgia, and West Virginia but even teams after that are consistently having success moving the football.

Along the defensive line has been a real issue. Defensive end Kyle Phillips is having a productive season as a senior. The Nashville native was a blue-chip prospect out of high school but has mostly been a disappointment in Knoxville. This year he is fifth on the squad in tackles and is UT’s best disruptor on the line of scrimmage. After that, Tennessee isn’t getting much production.

At the second level is where the strength of the defense is. Inside linebackers Daniel Bituli and Darrin Kirkland Jr. are both really good football players. The duo has combined for 102 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and 11.5 run stuffs (run stops at or behind the line of scrimmage). 

The last two weeks UK has struggled to get blockers to the second level and that will be vital against this Tennessee front seven.

In the secondary, Nigel Warrior is one of the better safeties in the SEC and he will impact the game in both run support and pass coverage. At corner, true freshman Alontae Taylor has been one of the best cover corners in the SEC and he has a very bright future.

The diaper dandy will be suspended in the first half on Saturday due to a targeting penalty against Charlotte last week.

On paper, Tennessee will be the lowest ranked FBS defense UK has faced this season. Per S&P+, the Vols ranking 90th in overall defensive efficiency. This is a much needed change for a Kentucky offense that has seen five top 50 defenses this season.

Special Teams Breakdown

The best overall unit on UT’s team happens to be in special teams. Brent Cimaglia has been an excellent kicker and the Vols have gotten excellent return production from Marquez Callaway and Ty Chandler.

Where UK may find an advantage is in the return game.

The Vols are averaging less than 40 yards net on each punt but they’re simply not giving up returns. On kickoffs, Paxton Brooks only has a 41.9% touchback rate and that’s a nice change after facing Rodrigo Blankenship last week. On returns, opponents have been able to pick up some quality hidden yardage. Lynn Bowden will get a chance to make a difference.

Keys to Victory

  • Kentucky hasn’t scored more than 20 points in a game since September. That’s hard to believe, but they’ve been able to keep winning. That streak must stop on Saturday. In their last three games, UK will be up against three defenses they should be able to move the ball on. Kentucky must have success early and gain some confidence.
  • Kentucky’s run defense has been strong all season, but last week they were pushed around by a physical Georgia club. Facing a very anemic ground game, they must get back on track at Neyland Stadium. Stop the run and then UK’s pass rush should be able to tee up against shaky pass protection. UK has good matchups on the outside and could be dominant on Saturday if UT can’t get the ground game going.
  • The Wildcats have struggled to run the ball since September and that has played a big role in their scoring offense struggles. In the win over Vanderbilt, UK didn’t produce many explosive plays even with 280 rushing yards. On Saturday, it may be a good idea to pass early to setup the run. The Vols will be without their best cover corner to start the game and that should be advantage to Kentucky. Terry Wilson has played very well two games in a row and he should be able to have another very productive passing effort.
  • Kentucky has had one of the finest backed up defense in the country all year. As a team, the Wildcats are only giving up 3.3 points per scoring opportunity and this ranks fifth in the FBS. Last week, however, Georgia was able to score on every red zone possession and that caused the loss to get ugly. UK must prove that was a one game scenario and get back to their standard this Saturday.

What the…???

From Smokey, to Rocky Top, to the checkerboards, Tennessee has a lot of unique traditions. The Vols love to obnoxiously sing that song and running through the T coming out of the locker room. But the most unique thing Tennessee does happens on the water.

Along the Tennessee River you will see over 200 boats lined up and tailgating in what is now known as the Vol Navy. It really is a unique tradition that you can only find in Knoxville.

What’s at Stake Saturday against Tennessee

Historical and individual accomplishments are on the line when the Cats take the Neyland Stadium turf to play Tennessee Saturday at 3:30 on the SEC Network.

A win would firmly cement this Kentucky team as one of the best to ever take the field.  The last time Kentucky beat the Vols at Neyland was also the last year the Cats won eight regular season games, 1984.  A win would improve UK’s record to 6-2 in the SEC and secure a spot alone at second in the SEC East.  Only one other UK team has won six SEC games, the 1977 Wildcats.

The UK record books could change this Saturday as well.  Josh Allen needs two sacks and three tackles for loss to own each UK career record.  Allen has recorded three tackles for loss twice (Central Michigan, South Carolina) and at least two sacks in five games this season.

Mike Edwards could also join an elite club.  The Kentucky Badger is just seven tackles away from becoming the 19th member of the 300-tackle club.  Only one other UK defensive back has made 300 tackles, Daryl Bishop (1971-73).

It’s also a homecoming for a freshman offensive tackle.  Darian Kinnard was born in Ohio, but grew up in Knoxville.  He never cheered for the Vols — “Not a true orange fan,” he told reporters this week — but he has a connection to a Tennessee legend.  Kinnard’s aunt is first cousins with Dolly Parton. He’s never met Dolly, but a win might capture the country music legend’s attention.

If Kentucky takes care of business Saturday in Knoxville, it could be one of the most spectacular days in the history of the football program.

Tennessee is the Worst at a lot of Things

Ben Flanagan |

“Tennessee sucks.”

That phrase has been uttered often throughout the Commonwealth this year, especially by Drew Franklin.  While some may chalk it up to haters hating, it’s objectively true in a few statistical categories.

Tennessee’s offense is bad.  The Vols are ranked dead last in the SEC in three of the four major offensive statistical categories.

Stat Per Game SEC Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 24.3 14 102
Rushing Offense 127.6 14 111
Passing Offense 205 9 91
Total Offense 333 14 120

The most remarkable feature of the Tennessee offense is their inability to run the football.  Last week against Charlotte they only rushed for 20 yards.  Over the last five games, Tennessee has surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground only once.  Now they’ll go up against a UK defense that was ranked in the top 25 in rush defense until D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield came to town.

Tennessee relies on Jarrett Guarantano’s big arm to move the ball down the field, and they’re not too bad at it.  Ranked sixth in the SEC in pass plays over 20 yards, they had at least our in a win at Auburn.  Here’s where the Vols will hit a road block against Kentucky.

Defensively, Jeremy Pruitt has gotten a lot of his unit, but it’s still nothing to brag about.

Stat Per Game SEC Rank National Rank
Scoring Defense 26.7 10 63
Rushing Defense 161.1 10 66
Passing Defense 207.3 6 41
Total Defense 368.4 9 46

The numbers don’t jump off the page.  The Vols employ a similar scheme to what UK saw last week, without the caliber of athletes that Georgia brought to Kroger Field.  Compared to previous opponents, Tennessee might have the worst FBS defense Kentucky has seen.  It’s the perfect recipe for Eddie Gran to get the offense back on track.

Tennessee is not a great football team.  They’re fighting for a bowl berth.  If Kentucky lands the first punch, the fight could end early at Neyland Stadium this Saturday.

Kentucky now a six-point favorite vs. Tennessee

Kentucky now a six-point favorite vs. Tennessee

Kentucky opened as a 3.5-point favorite vs. Tennessee on Monday, but the line is on the move. The Cats are now a six-point favorite at most sportsbooks, which, in my humble opinion, is still a pretty safe bet.

Currently, the over/under is 42.5, and if you’ve followed Kentucky gambling this season, you know the under has been pretty reliable; considering Tennessee only scored 14 points on a terrible Charlotte team last week, I think that’s pretty safe as well.

Other SEC lines for this weekend:

Noon South Carolina #15 Florida (-6) ESPN
Noon Vanderbilt Missouri (-17) SEC Network
Noon Ole Miss Texas A&M (-13) CBS
3:30 PM #16 Mississippi State #1 Alabama (-24) CBS
3:30 PM #11 Kentucky (-6) Tennessee SEC Network
7:00 PM #24 Auburn #5 Georgia (-14) ESPN
7:30 PM #7 LSU (-13.5) Arkansas SEC Network

As always, gamble responsibly.