Kentucky Looks To Bounce Back Against Tennessee

Win Over Tennessee Keeps Major Bowl Hopes Alive

A week ago Kentucky headed into Starkville looking to cement a possible New Year’s Six bowl berth. However, it wasn’t to be as the Cats had more of the “Bye Week Blues” playing their worst game of the year losing 31-17. Now they must regroup and get ready for their rivals to the south from Knoxville as Kentucky looks to bounce back against Tennessee.

The Turnover Bug Returned

After struggling with miscues early in the year the Cats seemingly had things turned around. However against the Bulldogs turnovers once again were their undoing. Quarterback Will Levis had three interceptions, one on an underthrown ball to Wan’Dale Robinson that would have been a touchdown. In addition, Chris Rodriguez continued his fumbling problems. In fact, UK turned it over on the back-to-back series giving MSU the ball inside the Kentucky 20. You aren’t winning many games doing that.

In addition, the vaunted “Big Blue Wall” has struggled the last two games as UK’s only rushed for 51 and 66 yards respectively. As a result, Levis has thrown the ball 70 times, which is not really Kentucky’s brand of football. Tennessee ranks 61st in the NCAA giving up 144 yards per game. Furthermore, they’re 116th in football allowing points on 28 of 30 attempts in the red zone. If there’s ever a time for the Cats to get back on track it’s Saturday.

When Kentucky looks to bounce back on Saturday they’ll face a much better Tennessee squad.

Quicker Than Expected

At the end of the 2020 season saying the UT football program wasn’t in great shape is a vast understatement. Jeremy Pruitt was let go following a 3-7 finish and the school had numerous players leave the program. The school hired Josh Heupel away from Central Florida where he went 28-8 in three years.

While many thought it would be a couple of years before the Vols were competitive again Heupel has them in contention for a bowl game in year one. Currently, the Vols are 4-4 on the season but are on a two-game losing streak. Although, those two losses came to a really good Ole Miss team and to Alabama. In case you had forgotten the Vols were only down 24-17 to the Crimson Tide on the road before Nick Saban’s club put it away in the fourth winning 52-24.

Tennessee’s quarterback is a familiar name to Kentucky fans. Hendon Hooker transferred to Knoxville from Virginia Tech. He was under center when Kentucky beat Virginia Tech in the 2019 Belk Bowl. In that game, Hooker threw for 110 yards and two touchdowns and added another 50 yards on the ground. This year he’s thrown for 1,578 yards and 17 scores with only two interceptions. He’s also second on the team with 410 yards rushing and another four scores. Overall UT is 13th in the nation averaging 226 yards a game rushing.

As we do every week in our game previews we look at the longstanding rivalry between the two schools.

Series History

For long-time college football fans, it’s no big secret that Tennessee has dominated the history with the Cats. Saturday will be the 117th all-time meeting with the first matchup coming all the way back in 1983. Overall the Vols lead the series 81-26 and there have been nine ties. A streak many in the Big Blue Nation want to forget is UT winning 26 straight against the Cats from 1985-2010.  Since then Kentucky’s made some progress against their neighbors to the south. UK is 3-7 in the last 10 against UT but is 2-2 in the last four. That brings us to their most recent meetings.

Last Time They Met

A season ago the Cats blasted the Vols 34-7 in what was arguably Kentucky’s best game of 2020. In the process, they got their first win in Knoxville in 1984. Jamin Davis and Kelvin Joseph both returned interceptions for touchdowns as Brad White’s group forced four turnovers. Quarterback Terry Wilson became the first UK signal-caller since Bill Ransdell to win at both Florida and Tennessee.

The last time they played in Lexington it was a familiar scene as the Cats took a 13-3 halftime lead over Tennessee only to see the Vols run off 14 unanswered in the third quarter then hold on for a 17-13 victory. The Volunteers turned Kentucky over on downs three times in the second half, the final one coming at the goal line with about a minute to go.

Now that we’ve looked at both teams and given you some history it’s time to answer the most important question, who emerges victorious?

Who Wins On Saturday?

The Cats have dropped two in a row after winning their first six. A loss to Tennessee would echo similar years under Mark Stoops where UK started strong only to fade down the stretch. This is only the seventh time in history Kentucky’s been ranked when facing the Vols. This used to be the season-ending game every year and the results have been mixed.

A Kentucky win gives them three out of the last five against Tennessee, further proving UK is now equal to or better than everyone in the SEC East not named Georgia. Furthermore, a win would be the first consecutive victories against UT since 1976-1977.

For the Cats to win they have to get back to playing Kentucky football. That of course is controlling the ball on the ground. Additionally, they have to limit turnovers. On the other side of the ball, they must contain not only Hooker but the strong Tennessee running game.

Kentucky looks to bounce back against Tennessee on Saturday. The question is, do they? The answer to that is yes. In what’s likely a very close affair the Cats pull it out late.

Kentucky 27  Tennessee 20

As Kentucky looks to bounce back on Saturday do you think they will? Leave a comment below check us out on Twitter. We’ll be back after the game with a recap and updated bowl projections. Currently, we have Kentucky playing in the Peach Bowl and Tennessee in the Union Home Mortgage Bowl.


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