Tennessee (3-4) at Kentucky (5-2)
Saturday, Oct. 28th, 7:30 ET
Kroger Field (67,606) • Lexington, KY
TV: SEC Network
Series Record: Tennessee leads 79-24-9
Setting the table
The Vols come into this game at their lowest point in the Butch Jones era. Tennessee hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in 14 consecutive quarters, and they’ve lost three straight games and four of their last five. Tennessee is still winless in conference play while Kentucky is a win away from gaining bowl eligibility. The script is flipped from how this match-up usually is.
Who has the edge
When Tennessee throws…
Tennessee has struggled to pass the ball effectively the past two weeks. Jarrett Guarantano’s first two starts haven’t exactly filled up the stat sheet in that regard. He’s thrown for just 177 yards and an interception in the last two weeks combined. Kentucky does have the worst passing defense in the SEC, however, so the Vols’ young receiver corps might be able to find some space to work. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee
When Tennessee runs…
The Vols will be without their leading rusher and overall best player on offense when they take on Kentucky. Running back John Kelly is suspended for Saturday’s contest due to a citation for marijuana possession earlier this week. Tennessee still has some talented younger players at running back, and Guarantano can run it when needed. But playing without Kelly is definitely a hindrance for the Vols even despite Kentucky getting shredded on the ground in their last two games. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee
When Kentucky throws…
Stephen Johnson isn’t the most dynamic passer, but he’s been effective more often than not this season. But Tennessee’s pass defense has actually been fairly solid this season overall. Aside from Garrett Johnson, Kentucky doesn’t have many receivers to worry about. Blake Bone and tight end C.J. Conrad are the other receivers to watch, but they only have only combined to catch 19 passes on the year compared to Johnson’s 32 by himself. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee
When Kentucky runs…
Kentucky hasn’t been quite as good on the ground this season as most expected, but the Vols have routinely given up large chunks of rushing yards this season. Tennessee’s run defense hasn’t been as bad as it was last year, but it still hasn’t been great by any means. Edge: Kentucky
On special teams…
Evan Berry’s status is still up in the air, but even with his absence, the Vols have the advantage on special teams. Ty Chandler is a solid option at kick returner for Tennessee, and Kentucky only gets a touchback on 43.6 percent of their kickoffs. Throw in a mediocre punting game and average field goal kicking, and Tennessee holds the edge here. Edge: Tennessee
Best-case scenario for UT
Tennessee is on a three-game losing skid and hasn’t scored a touchdown on offense in 14 quarters. Coming out and getting a win and looking competent on offense would be the kind of confidence boost a young Tennessee squad needs.
Worst-case scenario for UT
The Vols have only lost to Kentucky once over the last three decades. Tennessee doesn’t lose to Kentucky in football. It just doesn’t happen. So if that does end up happening on Saturday, expect a massive amount of backlash from Vol fans.
How we think it’ll play out
For the first time in several years, the Wildcats and Vols appear to be on a fairly even playing field. Either team is capable of winning this game, but both are also capable of finding a way to lose. And if Tennessee loses this one, the seat under Butch Jones will burn hotter than it ever has.
Nathanael: Kentucky 24-19
Will: Kentucky 21-16
Ben: Kentucky 24-21