Good Morning, #BBN!!! It’s GAMEDAY!!! Today feels like a great day to beat Tennessee. Despite two SEC games getting postponed due to Coronavirus outbreaks at Vanderbilt and Florida, Kentucky remained in the Noon time slot down in Knoxville to take on the low-down, dirty, snitches of Tennessee.
The Wildcats are coming off of their first victory of the season with a convincing 24-2 win over Mississippi State. Conversely, the Volunteers lost their first game of the season last Saturday down at Georgia 44-21. The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak dating back to last October.
Everyone reading this article presumably knows the history between these two programs. Kentucky’s last win at Neyland Stadium came in 1984. After that win by the ‘Cats in 1984, Tennessee would rattle off 26 consecutive wins until 2011. Kentucky got another one in 2017, but this is clearly a one-sided rivalry dating back nearly four decades.
Will Kentucky be up for the task and come back home with a statement victory? Or will it be more of the same for the ‘Cats against the Vols? For more preparation before kick-off make sure you read up on Adam Luckett’s Scouting Report and Freddie Maggard’s take on How Kentucky Beats Tennessee.
Elite Offensive Line
Typically we begin these articles with the Quarterback, and we will get to Mr. Guarantano, but Tennessee’s O-Line deserves to lead things off. This position group is made up of four former five-star recruits and a sixth year graduate transfer from Alabama. Left Guard Trey Smith (#73) and Right Tackle Cade Mays (#68) are two of the best linemen in college football. At Center is Alabama transfer Brandon Kennedy (#55). After playing in 10 games as a backup at Alabama, Kennedy will be making his 17th consecutive start at Center for the Volunteers.
Rounding out the line of scrimmage are a pair of former five star recruits in Wanya Morris (#64) and Darnell Wright (#72). The true sophomores each have quite a bit of experience under their belts already. Morris started 12 of 13 games last season as a freshman and Wright made 7 starts a year ago.
This is a group of big ole boys that will look to get some push and win the line of scrimmage battle to set up the running attack. We love the Big Blue Wall at Kentucky and they deserve a ton of credit for what they have accomplished, but if they want to wear the badge as the best in the SEC they need to go through this Tennessee offensive line first.
Power Running Game
Much like the Kentucky Wildcats, the Vols rely heavily on their rushing attack to set the tone. Tennessee leans on a pair of running backs that are carrying the ball on over 37% of the offensive snaps. Senior Ty Chandler (#8) has been a staple in Knoxville since his freshman season rushing for 1777 career yards and 10 touchdowns in his career.
Sophomore Eric Gray (#3) burst onto the scene last year as a true freshman rushing for 539 yards and four scores. Gray had a big game against Missouri carrying the ball 16 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. He also had a touchdown reception.
These two backs will split the carriers for the most part. Both of them will factor into the passing game as well and the Wildcats defense will have to be ready for that aspect. Gray had eight receptions in their loss against Georgia and Ty Chandler has six catches this season as well.
The pair of backs have the luxury of running behind an elite offensive line, but have yet to really dominate so far this season. Kentucky’s defense must continue to stuff the run as they have so far this season and quiet these two in order to come out of Neyland Stadium victorious this afternoon.
I said we would get to him. Redshirt Senior Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (#2) has started a lot of games at Tennessee, today will be his 29th start dating back to his redshirt freshman season. There is a strong contingent of Tennessee fans that seem to be ready for him to graduate, but Guarantano has had quite a bit of success in Knoxville. He has thrown for nearly 6000 yards in his career to go with 36 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions.
This season, Guarantano has fumbled the ball four times and has been sacked nine times including five last week against Georgia. Kentucky would be well served keeping the Volunteers behind the chains with a couple sacks and forcing a turnover would be ideal obviously as well.
Tennessee will look to Guarantano to throw the deep ball and he has an excellent deep threat in Josh Palmer (#5). At 6’2 210 pounds, Palmer has averaged nearly 16 yards per catch in his career. He has caught 14 balls for 227 yards and three touchdowns this season. In each game Palmer has a reception of at least 32 yards. Kentucky’s secondary will need to come to play like they did last week and limit Guarantano’s deep shots, especially to his favorite Senior pass-catcher.
Henry To’o To’o Leads the Defense
Running a 3-4 Defense under the tutelage of former UK assistant Derrick Ansley, the Volunteers have relied on their linebacking corps to make plays so far this season. Henry To’o To’o (#11) leads the team with 23 tackles including three tackles for loss and a pick six. Senior Deandre Johnson (#13) has already collected 3.5 sacks this season and will look to cause some havoc in the backfield along with To’o To’o.
The Tennessee defense has quite a bit of talent in the box, but as Adam Luckett pointed out in his Scouting Report, there are some holes for completions down the field. 64.86% of completions against the Volunteer defense have gone for at least 15 yards. If UK can pick up some chunk plays through the air to go with the typical success on the ground it will go a long way towards getting the win.
Red Zone Success
On both sides of the ball through three games this season Tennessee has done well in the Red Zone. They are second in the Southeastern Conference in red zone touchdown rate which means they are finishing drives with six points instead of settling for field goals. Their 5.21 points per scoring opportunity is one of the best marks in the country.
Defensively, the Volunteers are allowing just 4.06 per scoring opportunity. Teams have scored touchdowns on just six of 11 trips to the end zone. Against Missouri, Tennessee allowed just 12 points in five scoring opportunities for the Tigers. Kentucky must finish possessions in the red zone with touchdowns and get points on the board when the opportunities present themselves.