For SEC games this season, Daniel Lewis will put together a blueprint for how Tennessee can have its best chance to knock off that week’s opponent. It’s written from a Tennessee coach’s mindset and isn’t necessarily representative of how RTI predicts the game to go.
Offense: If ever there was a blueprint given to a team the week before facing an opponent, Mississippi State gave the Vols exactly that last week – using quarterback Dak Prescott to run around, through and over UK’s defense while also opening up his passing opportunities.
Joshua Dobbs and Prescott aren’t the same player, but in terms of overall skillset, there are certainly some similarities. Dobbs, who ran 10 times for 48 yards against the ‘Cats last season, should be able to do that and much more in Lexington if the Wildcats don’t completely sell out to stop the run. If the Vols see anything like this, it’ll be easy money all day:
That’s probably wishful thinking on UT’s behalf that Kentucky will blow an assignment that badly again, but the Wildcats have shown issues defending the run all season – checking in at 11th in the SEC in rush defense, giving up 172 yards per game on the ground. And it’s not as if Kentucky has faced a brutal schedule of some of the best runners in the nation either. The Wildcats haven’t faced any of the SEC’s top five teams in rushing so far this year like they will on Saturday when Tennessee (3rd) comes to town.
There should be plenty of opportunities on the ground for a UT team averaging 209.1 yards per game in that category. Jalen Hurd ran for 118 yards on 24 carries last year. The bigger, better version of Hurd should have every opportunity to do that and more again this season. There shouldn’t be too many reasons to get fancy in this game. Butch Jones brought Mike DeBord in to make Tennessee a physical running team, and that’s been shown several times this year. This will be another opportunity for UT to impose its will on the ground, and it would not be surprising to see two 100-yard rushers in this game and perhaps a team total of 250+ yards on the ground.
More good news for UT’s offense is that Kentucky has also struggled against the pass – ranking 12th in the SEC in that category (232.3 ypg). So while it seems that UT’s best overall matchup is its power run game against UK’s struggling rush defense, DeBord will know that the pass should be there as well, especially if and when Kentucky stacks the box.
Tennessee’s injuries and inconsistencies at the wide receiver position have been well-documented, but even a performance like the pass-catchers had at Alabama (13 catches, 171 yards) would do enough to keep Kentucky honest and let the Vols make their living on the ground.
It always seems that Kentucky has at least one stud defender, even when the defense as a whole isn’t great. That player this year is linebacker Josh Forrest, who does a bit of everything, either leading the team or coming in second in tackles, TFLs, sacks, interceptions, pass deflections, quarterback hurries and forced fumbles. Mark Stoops like to blitz him from different places, so identifying him before each snap will be important as well for an offensive line that has a lot of moving pieces and young contributors right now.
Tempo will be important as well. Kentucky struggled against it when playing Auburn a few weeks back and Mississippi State last week. The Vols have a great chance to keep the Wildcats off balance if they go as fast as they have for much of this year.
Defense: While the picture is fairly bleak for Kentucky’s defense, the offense does present a few more challenges for Tennessee.
Patrick Towles is a very interesting case at quarterback. He’s probably more impressive to NFL scouts than he is to opposing defensive coordinators overall because, though he has NFL size, arm strength and good mobility for his stature, he does have a hard time taking care of the football at times and can be more potential than production.
His 9-to-8 interception-to-TD ratio is indicative of that. But even with some of his flaws, his upside can’t be ignored, and the potential for him to put up big numbers and to move the football is always there. He’s fifth in the league in passing yards per game (247.1) and seventh in accuracy (60.3%), so while he hasn’t creeped up into the elite tier of the SEC (does that exist this year?), he’s still a good quarterback.
Much like it did at Alabama, Tennessee needs to bring a lot of pressure to keep Towles from getting in a rhythm. The Wildcats don’t do a good job protecting him consistently, giving up the second most sacks in the SEC. Especially if they have the kind of effort that they did in Tuscaloosa, the Vols might be able to get to Towles with just four rushing. If they can, that will cause a lot of problems for Kentucky’s offense and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Towles serve a few up to UT, which would then have seven in coverage.
Kentucky’s rushing attack is fairly lackluster on paper, but when Boom Williams is playing (as he is Saturday), he gives Kentucky a big-play threat. He’s already taken one 75 yards this season and with an average of 92 yards per game on the ground, he might not be in the top tier of SEC backs, but he isn’t that far behind. Keeping him leveraged and getting him on the ground will be important. He’s the type of player that can almost lull a defense to sleep with several ineffective runs before bursting out on a huge play. He has great speed in the open field especially.