A look at the four keys for Tennessee to be successful against Kentucky on Saturday afternoon (noon ET, SEC Network):
1. Play Fast
Through nine games, the Vols have only started out strong in two of them (Ohio and Tennessee Tech). With this being a critical game in determining the winner of the SEC East, the Vols must look to start out fast. This is a Kentucky team that struggled early in the season, but has found its stride down the stretch, as they currently sit in second place in the division. Against Tennessee Tech, the Vols capitalized quickly with early touchdowns from Josh Malone, Jauan Jennings and John Kelly. They need to come out with that same mentality in order to shut down a hungry Kentucky team.
2. Stop the Run
In the last four conference games, Kentucky has averaged 270 rushing yards per contest. The majority of their runs come out of the Wildcat package utilizing their star running backs Boom Williams and Benny Snell. Williams and Snell have combined for 1,673 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. The bad news is that Tennessee’s run defense hasn’t been all that great statistically. The Vols rank 82nd in total rushing defense and have given up an average of 191 yards per game. Bob Shoop will look to some younger guys up front to fill in the holes due to various injuries. Kentucky’s quarterback play hasn’t been great, so if the Vols can contain the ground game, then they have a solid chance of winning.
3. Utilize Playmakers
There really is no question about it: Tennessee is much deeper in talent than Kentucky, and the Vols need to utilize it. It all starts in the backfield. Josh Dobbs is a talented football player. He hasn’t proven he can be a consistent big-time passer, but he has shown flashes. Dobbs is a veteran SEC quarterback that has shown he can beat teams with his arm, but especially with his legs. In addition to the ground game, Tennessee also has found a potential workhorse in John Kelly. He’s an explosive downhill runner that can find holes and outrun coverage. Along with Kelly, the Vols very well could return Alvin Kamara this week. If Dobbs, Kelly, and Kamara can receive numerous carries, then Kentucky’s defense will wear down. In the passing game, the Vols have numerous threats including Josh Malone, Jauan Jennings, and Tyler Byrd. UT definitely has its choices in offensive playmakers. Use them.
4. Special Teams
Tennessee’s special teams were dealt a major blow earlier this week with the news that Evan Berry is out for the season with a leg injury. They will need to find someone to step up in the kick return game. Tennessee has several options in the return game including Micah Abernathy, Tyler Byrd, John Kelly and Marquez Callaway, who made a big play with a 62-yard punt return for a score last week. Granted, it was against Tennessee Tech but Callaway was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school who very well could help the Vols on special teams. With Kamara back, the special teams unit has an advantage.