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Prediction Panel: Tennessee at Kentucky

Jalen Hurd-1-2Daniel’s Pick:

I’ll keep this one relatively simple. Tennessee is the better football team playing in a series that has been historically lopsided in UT’s favor and the Vols are coming off a much more impressive performance than Kentucky last week.

Tennessee should win this game in Lexington on Saturday evening.

I especially like UT’s matchup in the run game against Kentucky. The Wildcats are giving up 172 yards per game on the ground (11th in the SEC) and have seen opponents rush for 15 touchdowns this season (13th in the SEC). Those numbers aren’t at all impressive. But here’s what works even more in UT’s favor: Kentucky hasn’t even faced a top-5 SEC rushing team yet.

That’s exactly what the Vols are right now, sitting at third in the league with 209 yards per game on the ground. And I think Joshua Dobbs can follow the blueprint that MSU’s Dak Prescott gave him last week and will run all over the Wildcats and will be able to have success through the air in spots as well.

Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara should be in for big days too. I don’t think UT will have to rely on the passing game to carry the load, but if Kentucky does limit the Vols on the ground for whatever reason, that means that the ‘Cats had to put so many men in the box that UT should be able to have some success through the air.

Offensively, Kentucky should scare Tennessee to an extent. Patrick Towles is everything you want in a college football quarterback on paper, but doesn’t consistently make good enough decisions to truly be a threat to beat you on a consistent basis. If the Vols get to him with some pressure, there should be some opportunities to create turnovers. The Vols do need to be careful with running back Boom Williams though – his yards-per-game average is on par with Jalen Hurd at this point in the season. He’s a big play waiting to happen if he’s not properly wrapped up.

I see both sides moving the football relatively well in this one because I don’t think either defense is built to completely shut down the opposing offense. Tennessee’s edge, on paper, looks to be more substantial. So while I still struggle with trust issues with this Tennessee team, I’m going to put some faith in it doing what it does about as well as anything else – taking care of business against Kentucky.

Pick: Tennessee 34-21

MVP: QB Joshua Dobbs

I mentioned Prescott going off on Kentucky earlier, and while I’m not saying Dobbs and Prescott are the same player, I do think that showed the potential that Dobbs could put up huge numbers against this Kentucky defense. Prescott put up 348 yards passing, 117 yards rushing and six total touchdowns. Dobbs did 297/48/4 last season against the Wildcats in Knoxville. Numbers in that neighborhood are certainly possible, perhaps even plausible, for Dobbs in Lexington. I could certainly see Hurd stepping up and making a case after he went for 100+ against UK last year, but I think the overall play-making ability of Dobbs will really shine in The Bluegrass State on Saturday.

Houston’s Pick:

I’m going to keep it pretty simple this weekend. Tennessee is a good football team, despite their record, and Kentucky probably isn’t as good as their record suggests. The talent gap between these two teams is still largely in Tennessee’s favor, and what Tennessee likes to do on both sides of the ball actually matches up really well with Kentucky’s philosophy.

Defensively, the Vols will have to keep their focus on running back “Boom” Williams all game long. He is Kentucky’s most dynamic playmaker and he has home-run potential every time he touches the ball. Kentucky’s offensive line isn’t great, but Williams has a unique ability to find a crease, find a cutback lane, reverse his field…etc. to spring himself for a big play when there doesn’t appear to be a play to be had. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles is an enigma. He’ll look like a first-round NFL pick for a quarter, and then throw a couple interceptions and almost disappear for entire stretches of the game. He is prone to mistakes, but also has the ability to hit some really big plays over the course of the four quarters of football. If Tennessee’s defensive front can pressure him the way they pressured Alabama’s Jake Coker – to the tune of five sacks – then Tennessee should be just fine defensively. They’ll need good play from the secondary and a big game from Jalen Reeves-Maybin in this game, and I think they’re going to get both.

Offensively, Tennessee should be licking their chops ahead of tonight’s game. Tennessee has proven all season that they can run the football on just about anyone in the country, and Kentucky’s rush defense is among the worst in the conference, in my opinion. I expect Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and Joshua Dobbs to give Kentucky fits all night long, which, in turn, should open up a few big plays in the passing game. The offensive line should have little trouble creating rushing lanes against Kentucky’s banged up d-line, and if Kentucky elects to blitz, then Joshua Dobbs will likely burn them with a few very long runs in this game on zone-read looks or misdirection running plays. Once those start working, Tennessee will go down the field for big plays to Josh Smith, Josh Malone and Von Pearson.

Pick: Tennessee 48-20

MVP: Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs

Dobbs appears to have settled into Mike DeBord’s offense and has looked much more confident in recent weeks. And after seeing what Dak Prescott did to Kentucky last weekend (25/35 passing for 348 yards and 3 touchdowns, as well as 13 carries for 117 yards and 3 more touchdowns), it’s hard to imagine that Kentucky has suddenly figured out how to stop a dual threat quarterback. Dobbs carved Kentucky as a true freshman, he smoked them last year, and I think he does it again in 2015. Dobbs will have a huge night.

Reed’s Pick:

Tennessee is a more talented football team than Kentucky. They’re a more tested team than Kentucky and they’re simply a better team than the Wildcats in nearly every facet of the game. Tennessee cannot lose this football game.

Jalen Hurd, Joshua Dobbs and Alvin Kamara won’t have any trouble finding running lanes on one of the worst rushing defenses in the SEC. Dobbs and the Vol passing game will have some opportunities to hit some big plays through the air as the Wildcats are likely to stack the box and try to force the Vols to throw to football. The Vols have carved up below average defenses during Butch Jones’ tenure and I expect that to continue in Lexington tonight.

Defensively, the Vols are coming off their best performance of the season. A resurgent Brian Randolph and Corey Vereen solidified the Tennessee defense against Alabama. If they can continue to play at that level, Kentucky is in trouble. Justin Martin could be in for a big day at corner as well. Patrick Towles hasn’t taken care of the football this season. I expect him to produce a few big plays down the field but won’t be surprised if he throws a couple of interceptions as well. The Vol defensive front should make things difficult on him throughout the evening.

Evan Berry, Cam Sutton and Alvin Kamara will have plenty of opportunities to break one against a lackluster Kentucky kick coverage unit. Aaron Medley’s struggles aside, the Vols have the edge at nearly every position in this game.

This one could get out of hand but … weird things happen in Lexington. Tennessee’s last four trips to Commonwealth have been decided by an average of 4.5 points. Two of those games went to overtime. The Volunteers haven’t blown Kentucky out in Lexington since a 27-8 victory in 2005. The Wildcats lost to talented Florida and Auburn teams by a combined 8 points this season. This one should be close for a while but the Vols should pull away in the end and get back to .500 for the season.

Pick: Tennessee 34-24

MVP: Tennessee Quarterback Joshua Dobbs

Mobile QBs are the bane of Kentucky’s defense and Joshua Dobbs leads all SEC QBs in rushing. I expect a big day from him on the ground and think he’ll complete a couple of deep balls that will really crush Kentucky’s soul.

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