Tennessee never loses to Kentucky. Except in 2011. And we all saw how that turned out.
Are the Vols capable of winning this game? Absolutely. Kentucky isn’t the juggernaut Alabama is, nor are they as talented and well coached as Georgia. I would even argue that South Carolina, another team Tennessee has played this season, is better than them (even though Kentucky beat them).
But just because Tennessee can win this game doesn’t mean they will. And until I see them score an offensive touchdown, I’m not picking them to win another SEC game.
Kentucky has enough going for them to pull off the rare victory over the Vols this weekend. The Vols will be without John Kelly, and Kentucky’s rushing attack should be able to give Tennessee’s defense enough fits to find a way to win.
Can the Vols win? Yes. Will they score an offensive touchdown finally? I believe they do, yes. But I think they only manage to score one, and I think they end up settling for field goals on every other red zone trip and on a few other possessions as well.
Pick: Kentucky 24-19
MVP: Stephen Johnson, QB
Stephen Johnson won’t be the best quarterback the Vols face this season, but he’s more than capable of making big plays happen. And he’s just mobile enough to be a problem for a Tennessee run defense that has had trouble stopping quarterbacks from taking off on them this season. The senior has run for over 40 yards in a game four times this season, and he’s been able to do enough through the air to help Kentucky put up points.
First of all, anything can happen. Tennessee could win this game by two scores. It could also lose by two touchdowns.
With Ty Chandler taking the bulk of reps at running back, this offense is a total wild card to me. I think that a more comfortable Jarrett Guarantano has his best game to date against a bad Kentucky pass defense. But he’s going to take some hits. Chandler’s weakness is pass blocking. So how does that impact Guarantano’s game?
I think the defense has to force multiple turnovers in order for Tennessee to win this game. You have to give your offense a short field in order to break a streak of 14 straight quarters without a touchdown. I’m not worried about Kelly missing out because I think UT’s running backs are the only group on the team that’s exceeded expectations.
If Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler combine for 100+ yards, Tennessee has a great chance to win this game. But I’ll believe that when I see it.
Pick: Kentucky 21-16
MVP: Jarrett Guarantano, QB
I never thought the day would come in which I would pick Kentucky to beat Tennessee in football. But here we are.
Tennessee just isn’t playing good football right now. Yes, Kentucky is coming off a 45-7 beat down at the hands of Mississippi State, but it’s the only game this season in which the Cats haven’t been competitive. Tennessee can’t say the same.
Kentucky’s rushing defense is one of the best in the conference, only allowing 123.6 rushing yards per game. Tennessee will be going up against one of the best rush defenses in the SEC without star running back John Kelly. That’s not a recipe for success. Tim Jordan, Carlin Fils-Aime and Ty Chandler will have to come ready to play.
Where Tennessee can find success against Kentucky, though, is through Jarrett Guarantano. While the coaches haven’t really allowed Guarantano to throw the football, he’s been efficient when doing so. On Saturday evening, the New Jersey native will have plenty of opportunities to make plays through the air, as Kentucky allows an SEC -worst 270.1 passing yards per game. The offensive line and receivers will need to step up in order to help Guarantano out.
Pick: Kentucky 24-21
MVP: Benny Snell Jr., RB
Tennessee has not been successful at stopping the run this season. The Vols have given up 247.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks second to last in the SEC. Benny Snell Jr. has rushed for 541 yards and six touchdowns this season, and he’ll look to have yet another big game on Saturday.