Looking To Build Momentum
Last Saturday the Kentucky Wildcats finally broke into the win column after starting the year with two straight losses. In this year of all-SEC competition there are no easy weeks. On Saturday Mark Stoops’ squad heads south down Interstate 75 to what has been a house of horrors over the years. The Cats look to win in Knoxville for the first time since 1984. Can they get the job done? Let’s take a look as we begin previewing Kentucky at Tennessee.
For Kentucky the 2020 season has been a strange one. In losses to Auburn and Ole Miss the Cats won every statistical category except two major ones, turnovers and the scoreboard. In addition the secondary, which was one of the best a season ago had been torched in the first two games. However in the 24-2 win over Mississippi State it was the opposite. The Bulldogs dominated the stat line but the Cats forced six turnovers, all interceptions. In the process Kentucky became the first school ever to hold Mike Leach coached squad without an offensive point. It would have been a shutout except for a bizarre safety.
While the defensive finally got it going against MSU the offense struggled. Mustering only 157 yards they looked out of sorts many times during the game. In the first two contests Eddie Gran’s group averaged 470 yards per game. Furthermore the vaunted Kentucky rushing attack only accounted for 84 yards, with 51 of those coming on a run by Terry Wilson. Granted the tough Bulldog run defense had a little something to do with that. If the Cats can put it all together they will be tough to beat.
Scouting The Vols
Jeremy Pruitt’s team comes into Saturday with a 2-1 record this season with wins over South Carolina and Missouri. However last week they lost 44-21 at Georgia. The Vols actually led the game 21-17 at the half but were held to 71 yards after the break. In addition the Bulldog defense forced turnovers on the first two drives sparking the comeback. The loss snapped Tennessee’s win streak at nine dating back to the end of 2019.
Heading the offense is senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. So far in 2020 Guarantano has thrown for 664 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Ty Chandler and Eric Gray are the main weapons in the backfield. Between the two they have 357 yards rushing and three touchdowns. In addition they are both pass catching threats with a combined 16 receptions. When the Vols go to the air Kentucky has to watch out for Josh Palmer who has 14 receptions for 227 yards and three scores.
On the other side of the ball linebacker Henry To’o To’o heads the defense. He leads the team in tackles with 23 and has an interception return for a touchdown. In addition another linebacker Deandre Johnson already has 3.5 sacks on the year. Stopping those players is key for a Wildcats victory.
Saturday’s match up is the 116th time Kentucky and Tennessee have met on the gridiron. Overall the Vols lead the series 81-25 with nine ties. Tennessee is on a two game winning streak after the Cats won a 29-26 thriller in 2017. As mentioned earlier the Cats last won in Knoxville all the way back in 1984. That day Bill Ransdell led Kentucky to a 17-12 victory on their way to a nine win season.
Overall, if you are a Cat fan the numbers are pretty ugly. Kentucky has only managed four wins against UT since 1981. If you take that back even more it’s seven wins since 1964. While some of the losses in Lexington have been close the scores in Knoxville have not. Tennessee has won by double digits in 13 of their 17 straight home wins. As you can see UK fans have been subjected to a whole lot of “Rocky Top.”
The Last Time They Met
A season ago things looked good early for Kentucky as they went into the half leading 13-3. However the old Kentucky Achilles heel reared it’s ugly head, the back up quarterback. Guarantano replaced Brian Maurer under center and immediately threw two touchdowns passes giving the Vols at 17-13 lead.
The Cats had a chance to win after Marquan McCall recovered a Chandler fumble at the Tennessee 45. However Lynn Bowden was stopped on fourth and goal and that was the game. It was another tough loss for the Cats to Tennessee where they had chances to win. Earlier in the game the Vols picked off a Bowden pass deep in Tennessee territory. In addition UK missed the extra point after a second touchdown by Kavosiey Smoke. As a result they were forced to go for a touchdown late instead of a tying field goal.
Two years ago in Knoxville the Cats had what was thought to be their best chance in recent memory of winning in Knoxville. However the Kentucky came out flat and were whipped 24-7 in what remains one of Stoops’ worst losses at Kentucky. The loss to a 5-7 Vols team more than likely cost the Cats a Peach Bowl bid.
Who Wins On Saturday?
Now that we’ve finished previewing Kentucky at Tennessee it’s prediction time. True Blue Fans hope this is the game puts it all together. They’ve been good on either offense or defense but never in the same game. They also must win the turnover battle. On the other side of the ball it’s all about stopping the quarterback. You know how there’s that one player on the opposing team who always plays his best game against you. If you’re Kentucky it’s Guarantano.
Jarrett Guarantano's highest passer rating game vs FBS opponent in 2017: Kentucky
Jarrett Guarantano's highest passer rating game vs FBS opponent in 2018: Kentucky
Jarrett Guarantano's highest passer rating game vs FBS opponent in 2019: Kentucky
— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) October 14, 2020
As stated in the beginning Kentucky hasn’t won in Knoxville since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Two years ago the best Wildcat team in 40 years couldn’t win in Neyland Stadium. Kentucky’s streak of frustration continues on Saturday.
Tennessee 28 Kentucky 21
Thanks for previewing Kentucky at Tennessee with us here at Last Word On College Football. We’ll be back with a recap and look ahead to next week’s game against Georgia.