Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee will either buy or sell the likelihood of several things happening each week before a Tennessee football game. Here are their takes on the Vols’ match-up with No. 11 Kentucky.
Buy or Sell: Benny Snell runs for 125 yards on the Vols.
I’m going to go against conventional wisdom here and actually sell that Snell runs for 125 or more yards. I think he can get 100 yards on the Vols’ iffy run defense, but I think him being banged up and UK’s offensive line getting a little worn down will factor into him not having quite as big of a day as most are expecting. Snell is very dangerous, and he’s hard to bring down with just one tackler. The Vols are going to have to wrap up and get multiple guys on Snell to bring him down, but I think they can keep him from absolutely torching them on Saturday.
Benny Snell is one of the best backs in the country, and Tennessee has had a tough time stopping opponents from running the football this season. The Maxwell Award semifinalist owns the school record with 42 career touchdowns and has moved into second place on Kentucky’s all-time career rushing list with 3,432 yards. Snell is a problem and if the Cats lean on him, it could be a long day for the Vols.
Now, it wouldn’t surprise me if Tennessee holds Snell to less than 125 rushing yards because he’s been banged up lately. Maybe Mark Stoops tries to get some other backs into the game to take the load off of Snell because Kentucky is on the verge of running him into the ground.
Buy or Sell: Jarrett Guarantano throws for 200 or more yards.
I don’t think Jarrett Guarantano is going to light up the stat sheet like he did against Auburn, but I think UT is going to have to get creative with their play-calling like they did against South Carolina. Guarantano went over 200 yards in that game (if only barely), and I think a similar game plan against the Wildcats can produce similar results. Kentucky’s secondary is very, very good, and Tennessee needs to minimize the damage they can cause and go for quick, shorter passes.
The one thing that could blow this up is Tennessee’s offensive line. Josh Allen, the SEC’s sack leader, could have a field day with UT’s beleaguered offensive line. That could disrupt what the Vols are attempting on offense.
This isn’t because of Jarrett Guarantano. It’s because of the offensive line. Guarantano is going to have very little time to throw the football on Saturday against one of the best front-sevens in all of college football. Factor in Kentucky’s talented secondary, and I don’t believe it’s a great recipe for Guarantano to have a big day through the air.
Kentucky’s pass defense ranks 14th nationally in team passing efficiency defense (107.75), and 16th in pass yards allowed per game (178.6). Tennessee’s talented receivers have the ability to make plays, but they’ll have their work cut out them going up against Darius West, Mike Edwards, and Derrick Beaty.
Buy or Sell: The winning team will score 21 points.
I don’t think either team is going to eclipse 20 points. I could be wrong, but I just don’t see the winning team scoring more than 17-20 points in this game. These two offenses rank 13th and 14th in the SEC in points scored per game. The Wildcats haven’t scored more than 17 points in their last four games, and the Vols are only averaging 21.6 points per game in SEC play. With as good as Kentucky’s defense is and as low-scoring as their offense is, I don’t think this one ends up seeing a lot of points go up on the board.
I think the winning team will have 24 points, and I think it’ll be Kentucky. With the way the Cats are running the football and how much Tennessee’s rush defense has struggled at times this season, it could be a long day for the Vols. On the flip side, I just don’t see Tennessee’s offensive line being able to hold its own against one of the best defenses in the country.
Buy or Sell: Vols score in the first quarter vs. Kentucky.
The Vols have been really, really bad in the first quarter against Power Five teams this season. They’ve scored a total of 10 points in the first quarter against five SEC teams and West Virginia, and they didn’t get their first touchdown in the first quarter against a Power Five team until they got one against South Carolina. Kentucky’s defense is really good at limiting points, and I don’t foresee the Vols getting points on the board in the first quarter.
I’m selling this one because outside of the South Carolina game, Tennessee has struggled in the first quarter all season long. The Vols hadn’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter against a Power Five opponent until the South Carolina game, which was seven games into the season. Against an even greater defense, I think the first quarter struggles continue.
If Tennessee scores a touchdown in the first quarter, it’ll be a non-offensive touchdown.
Buy or Sell: Tennessee forces two turnovers.
The Wildcats are a bit turnover-prone, but the Vols haven’t been good at forcing turnovers on defense this season. Tennessee has forced more than one turnover in just two of their nine games this season, and one of those came against ETSU. The only time the Vols have forced multiple turnovers against a Power Five opponent this season was when they caused Auburn to give the ball away three times. Kentucky is tied with two other teams for the second-most giveaways in the SEC this season, but South Carolina is also in that category, and the Vols only forced one turnover from the Gamecocks.
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson has been erratic with the football at times this season, throwing six interceptions to his six touchdowns. Wilson is a great athlete, but he’s not a great quarterback. If Tennessee can get some pressure on the JUCO transfer, it’ll force him into some bad decisions. I believe the Vols capitalize.