The Wildcats are fresh off of their first victory while the Volunteers just lost in a very tough fashion to Georgia in a game many thought they had a great chance to win. Now, for the 116th time, these programs are set to meet on the gridiron and Kentucky will be looking to snap their very long losing streak at Neyland Stadium.
It’s officially time to move forward with Tennessee week and getting set for what will be a smash mouth football game on Rocky Top. Both Jeremy Pruitt and Mark Stoops have built their teams from the inside out and whoever imposes their will more will likely emerge the winner.
This week on the Monday Huddle, we are going to kick things off as the Wildcats look to build off of a dominating defensive performance while fixing some ugly offensive issues that popped up at Kroger Field. The Wildcats have been able to collect a handful of road upsets in the past and this one would be quite big.
First Down: Will Stoops Address Injuries?
Just before kickoff, redshirt sophomore Bryce Oliver was ruled inactive for the third game in a row with what has been a nagging hamstring issue. On top of this, redshirt junior Isaiah Epps appears to be out an extended period time with a thumb and foot injury. After a very unimpressive performance by UK’s wide receiver corps these issues are starting to loom large.
Josh Paschal has been playing at an All-SEC level (12 tackles, 2 non-sack tackles for loss, interception) but he missed the entire second half against Mississippi State on what was being called a knee bruise. Redshirt sophomore Brenden Bates was shaken up in the second half and the young tight end has shown some promising signs in the first couple games.
Injuries are starting to occur and it is something all teams must deal with. These issues are just going to be more magnified in the SEC only schedule. Kentucky is going to be without tailback Kavosiey Smoke for the next few weeks and they can not afford to lose their best defensive player for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, there have been a ton of issues at wide receiver and injuries have played a part. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to get Oliver, who was one of the stars of training camp, back in the rotation.
Second Down: Know the Foe
Jeremy Pruitt his in his third season as the head coach at Tennessee and the former Alabama, Georgia and Florida State defensive coordinator had to make some major changes after year one. The Vols went out and hired Jim Chaney from Georgia to run the offense, plucked Derrick Ansley from the NFL to relieve Pruitt of defensive play-calling duties, added super alum Tee Martin from USC, and many more. After a slow start to year two, the Vols ended 2019 on a six-game winning streak and started off this year with victories over South Carolina and Missouri. One of the darlings of the talking season was prepared to make a statement playing Georgia in Athens.
Well, that did not happen.
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) October 10, 2020
Some UGA miscues and a couple of big catches by Tennessee’s Josh Palmer kept the Vols in the game, but it was all Georgia in the second half as the Dawgs rolled to a 44-21 victory. Tennessee put up just 1.82 yards per play in the second half with Jarrett Guarantano committing three turnovers. The result was an impressive win for Kirby Smart’s squad full of star recruits and proof that Tennessee still has a ways to go to join the elites.
Pruitt has done some nice recruiting work and this team is built very similarly to how Phil Fulmer constructed his rosters. Tennessee has a ton of beef on the line of scrimmage and that’s where they want to beat you. They lean on a power run game with play-action passing mixed in. Defensively, they are stop the run first at all costs with an athletic secondary that won’t be afraid to play man coverage. It’s an old school SEC philosophy that wants to play football games in the mud.
It’s very similar to what Mark Stoops has built at Kentucky as the two former Florida State defensive coordinator have many of the same philosophies and that shows through in the staffs. Tennessee defensive coordinator Ansley and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh both used to work for Stoops at Kentucky. UK’s Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw got many of their offensive concepts from Chaney due to Hinshaw working under him at Tennessee before joining forces with Eddie Gran at Cincinnati.
There are a ton of similarities between these two. It’s like the SEC’s version of the Spiderman gif.
Third Down: Who Stops the Run?
To no one’s surprise, the old school SEC approach is all about establishing the run on offense and stopping the run on defense. Both Kentucky and Tennessee will enter the game with two of the best offensive lines in the sport while both defenses rank in the top-20 nationally in yards per carry allowed. It figures to be rough sledding for both teams at the point of attack.
The Vols are fresh off allowing just 117 yards on 42 carries by Georgia’s four running backs while Kentucky smothered the running backs of Auburn and Ole Miss with just a 3.51 yards per cary average allowed. Both teams are determined to stop the run and that will almost certainly be the top goal for each this Saturday.
Kentucky could have a bit of advantage with the quarterback run element as Tennessee hasn’t really been forced to factor that in their defensive game plans this season. However, last year the Vols were able to limit the best rushing offense in college football to just 4.72 yards per carry and did not give up many explosive plays. It’s going to be a war of wills and whoever is able to best manufacture yards on the ground will probably be the team that has the best shot at victory come the end of the fourth quarter.
Fourth Down: Passing Game Crossroads
Kentucky has played 12 quarters of football in 2020 and the passing game remains a major factor. The Wildcats rank 13th in the SEC in passer rating and yards per attempt. Terry Wilson’s completion rating remains solid at 61%, but UK has been unable to push the ball down the field and this past week we saw a Mississippi State defense smother the short passing game in addition to the wideouts creating zero separation when UK tried to throw it longer than 10 yards. It has not looked good.
In both the Auburn and Mississippi State games where the offense labored, UK passed the ball on 45.38% of their snaps that resulted in a combined success rate of just 28.81%. Meanwhile, when the offense was able to be run heavy against Ole Miss, the team had a passing success rate of 66.67% on just 18 passing attempts in 74 snaps. Eddie Gran’s offense is trying hard to find balance, but the pass game is not delivering. If they keep going this way, it won’t be good enough to win the games they want to win.
Once again, it feels like this offense finds itself at a crossroads as the passing game has just not been able to get rolling during the Mark Stoops era. Will we see UK get run heavy and perhaps show us some packages with both Joey Gatewood and Wilson on the field together? Will UK get into more 12 personnel and try to make the tight ends a focal point of the offense? Will we see them just full out ride the running backs in the ground game?
I’m not sure what we’ll happen, but it’s starting to seem like we’ll see Gran adjust his scheme on the fly once again and that is something he has succeeded with in the past at Kentucky.
KSR made the trip to Owensboro and saw class of 2022 quarterback Gavin Wimsatt lead the Red Devils to a 28-14 win over city rival Owensboro Catholic. After a slow start, Wimsatt got it rolling to lead his team to a very big win. Our Troy Howell was there and caught up with the start recruit following the big victory. Speaking of quarterback recruits, KSR will be headed to Somerset this week to check out 2020 commit Kaiya Sheron and the Briar Jumpers.
This weeks Kroger KSR GAME OF THE WEEK will take us to Pulaski County
Lexington Christian vs Somerset….top two teams in Class 2A
KSR Radio will be in Somerset on Friday pic.twitter.com/ae8CmJGP9u
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) October 11, 2020
It’s now time for our top 15 rankings and there was a little bit of shuffling following an exciting Friday of prep football in the Bluegrass State. The season is moving along quickly and it won’t be long until we are talking about playoff football. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
- Johnson Central
- Boyle County
- South Warren
- North Hardin
- Frederick Douglass
- Bowling Green
- Covington Catholic
- St. Xavier
- Central and LCA (tie)
The Week Ahead at KSR
Expect an exciting week of football content as we get you ready for Kentucky’s second road game of the season. Make sure you are subscribed to all four of our podcasts: 11 Personnel, Free Money, The Depth Chart Podcast and The KSR Football Podcast. Each will be dropping at a different point some time this week.
Nick Roush will be here all week to provide practice reports, I’ll be dropping the Scouting Report for Tennessee on Thursday and Freddie Maggard will be providing his keys to the game along with much, much more. Stay tuned as Kentucky tries to get that long sought after victory in Neyland Stadium for the first time since 1984. Mark Stoops has his fair share of landmark victories at Kentucky and getting this one on Saturday would have to rank near the top of all of them. Kentucky needs to start beating Tennessee on a more regular basis if they want to keep climbing the ladder in the SEC.
Come Saturday at high noon, we are going to get two teams going at it that don’t like each other all that much with both playing a physical, beat the hell out their opponent’s style of football. It is going to be fun to watch and with a forecast of around 50 degrees set for Knoxville we will have our first taste of football weather. I cannot wait.