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Prediction Panel: No. 18 Tennessee vs. Kentucky

Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

The Rocky Top Insider team makes their picks for No. 18 Tennessee’s matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats this Saturday. Managing editor Ben McKee, as well as RTI contributor Blake Von Hagen and guest picker Rob Harvey of the Citizen Tribune share their picks.

Ben’s Pick

Kentucky is going to try to do to Tennessee what Georgia did to the Vols last Saturday. The Wildcats are going to try to run the football down Tennessee’s throat and have their defense make life really hard on the UT offensive line. The Vols are more equipped to handle Kentucky, however.

The Wildcats are no pushover along the defensive front, but the Vols o-line is the more talented unit which should lead to Jarrett Guarantano having time to get rid of the football. It’ll also open up holes for Eric Gray and Ty Chandler to take advantage of. If the offense has success on Saturday, it’ll be because the offensive line did their job.

While it’s important that the offensive line has a good game and that Guarantano doesn’t turn the football over, Tennessee will handle business as long as the defense limits Kentucky in the running game. UK is very good at rushing the football and will be a tall task for the Tennessee defense, but the Vols are up for the test.

Pick: Tennessee, 27-17

MVP: Tennessee LB Henry To’o To’o

To’o To’o had one of his best career games against Georgia last weekend and I think you’ll see him follow it up with another great game against the Cats. His ability to read the play, react and go make a play was on full display against the Bulldogs. We’ll see that again on Saturday as he leads the charge for a strong Tennessee defensive performance.

Blake’s Pick

Tennessee matches up much better this week than it did last week. Kentucky’s rushing attack might give the Vols’ defensive front some issues, but Tennessee will be able to stack the box and slow it down enough to keep the Wildcats off the board for the most part. While Georgia was able to dominate the line of scrimmage, Tennessee’s offensive line is going to look much more similar to what it appeared to be in the first two games of the season.

The history is well-documented—the Vols have dominated this series. They have covered the spread in 11 of the last 13 head-to-head meetings and should be in position to do so again on Saturday afternoon. Ty Chandler and Eric Gray will do damage throughout the game and Kentucky’s defense is going to have to stack the box. Jarrett Guarantano is more capable of taking advantage of a stacked box than Terry Wilson Jr. is.

Pick: Tennessee, 27-10

MVP: Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano

This should be a nice bounce back spot for a quarterback that continues to receive way too much criticism. The offensive line is going to play better on Saturday and Guarantano will take advantage of time in the pocket.

Rob’s Pick

I see this as a huge opportunity for the Tennessee defense to really show out. The defense held their own for much of Saturday’s game against Georgia but was overshadowed by a dominant Georgia defense. This week, Tennessee sees a Kentucky offense that put up just 157 total yards last week in their win over Mississippi State. The Vols have struggled with their pass defense this season, but the Wildcats rank 13th in the SEC in that regard on the offensive side. Look for the Tennessee defense to have their best performance of the season so far.
On the offensive side of the ball, I think the Vols will control the line of scrimmage. I am sure Jeremy Pruitt has been on the UT offensive line since they got off the plane last weekend, so look for a more inspired performance from a group that was supposed to be the strongest unit on the UT team at the start of the season. Going up against a Kentucky defense that ranks 8th in the country in run defense, this will be a big week for Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to bounce back from a poor second half against Georgia. Kentucky ranks 56th in the country in passing defense.
Overall, this is a perfect game for Tennessee coming off the Georgia game. I think you see the Tennessee run defense continue their strong start to the season, and Guarantano will have a solid performance against a suspect Kentucky passing defense. I think the Vols win by two touchdowns, and the game isn’t really that close.

Pick: Tennessee, 24-10

MVP: Tennessee LB Henry To’o To’o

Coming off his career high in tackles last week of 11, Henry T has been a force to start the season, specifically stopping the run. I see him having yet another strong showing against a Kentucky offense that has run the ball over 50 more times than they have thrown it. To’o To’o leads the team in tackles with 23.

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