JOE COX: Kentucky-Tennessee Showdown Should Be Halloween Thriller
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A talented football team, playing a bit under its level in the last few games, plays a pivotal home game against another SEC team that has pretty much owned it for the past few years. That team pulls off a mild surprise of a win, and sets itself up for a weak back end of its schedule.
Sounds a lot like Tennessee and their home win over Georgia.
But it might also sound like Kentucky and their home win over Tennessee.
It’s the first time since 1944 that UK plays Tennessee before November, and if what will be a packed and rowdy Commonwealth Stadium has anything to say about it, UK will deliver a haunting victory over the Volunteers on Halloween night.
Saturday’s 42-16 loss to Mississippi State was embarrassing at times, particularly in the defensive side of the ball. So what needs to change to deliver a memorable upset just a week later? Well, let’s take a peak back.
Freshman tight end C.J. Conrad is everything he was hoped to be. It wouldn’t hurt his game if Towles looked for him a little more often in the passing game, but he’s been a devastating blocker and his six catches for 56 yards was a nice performance. UK will need those types of games to continue over the latter half of the season.
Boom Williams had 95 yards on 18 carries, as he became the 35th member of UK’s 1000 yard rushing club. Hopefully, Boom can keep the big plays on the edge going, but decrease the big losses that MSU sometimes caught him in.
Austin MacGinnis did miss one field goal, after Stoops inadvertently iced him by calling timeout on a made kick, but he stands an excellent chance of owning every UK field goal record before his career ends.
Defense, defense, defense. Allowing 586 yards is not exactly positioning your offense to win. Dak Prescott absolutely had his way. He passed at will, he ran at will, and at one point he ran against a UK front with three players “in the box.” Net result? Touchdown. It was that kind of night.
UK’s receiver corps. More big plays, less dropping passes, please. Towles was not on one of his better games, but Johnny Unitas, Ken Stabler, and Troy Aikman couldn’t have combined to lead the UK receiving corps to success.
For the second week in a row, the coaching staff is on the hot list. Mark Stoops is a defensive coach. It is completely inexcusable for UK to get manhandled defensively, sometimes based off of wild misalignment. I don’t know if Stoops and D.J. Eliot are clashing, if the players aren’t paying attention, or if something is lost in translation from the coaches to the kids, but late in year three, this shouldn’t happen.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
1. LSU (7-0) I think they’re playing better all around football than Alabama right now. 2. Alabama (7-1) Can’t wait for LSU/Bama. 3. Ole Miss (6-2) Don’t know what to think about this team. 4. Florida (6-1) Can wrap up the east by beating Georgia. 5. Mississippi State (6-2) Dan Mullen is the most underrated coach in the SEC, and maybe in all of college football. 6. Georgia (5-2) This year might get ugly if Florida thumps them. 7. Texas A&M (5-2) Switching QBs. Yuck. *GIGANTIC GAP* 8. Tennessee (3-4) If they handle UK, they’ll go 8-4. 9. Arkansas (3-4) The SEC West’s trash would be the treasure of lots of other divisions. 10. Auburn (4-3) See No. 9. 11. Kentucky (4-3) How well UK plays Saturday tells a lot about how the rest of this season goes. 12. South Carolina (3-4) They’re still awful. 13. Vanderbilt (3-4) Win an SEC game, get out of the cellar. 14. Missouri (4-4) Lose to Vanderbilt, go into the cellar.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
Halloween brings to town a team with a physical defense, a punishing running back, and a dual threat QB. Just another week in the SEC. Tennessee is 3-4, has struggled in close games, and the general consensus is that Butch Jones is a fine recruiter, but that he gets a little tight in a close game. The question is can UK keep it close?
Running back Jalen Hurd has 664 yards rushing, and can run down UK’s throat if they play like they did last Saturday. Freshman reserve Alvin Komara adds another 276 yards rushing and is a threat as a receiver, particularly in the red zone. UT quarterback Josh Dobbs is a solid runner and a decent passer, with 1272 yards, nine touchdowns, and only two interceptions.
Defensively, Tennessee has a lot of injuries, but linebacker Jalen Reese-Maybin has 67 tackles, and is generally a bad man. Tennessee is vulnerable to the pass—they allow a lot of yardage, have just five interceptions all year, and have given up more sacks (16) than they have recorded themselves (14).
There are plenty of reasons (namely, the Mississippi State game) to think that UT will score at will. But I think that the Kentucky ship will be righted. I can’t pick a win, although I wouldn’t be shocked by one.
Tennessee 30, Kentucky 27
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
This just hasn’t been my year. A 3-3 week makes me 48-17 on the year. That sounds good, but honestly, it’s pretty mediocre. Maybe this week will go better. Here’s to a 5-1 week: Ole Miss 31, Auburn 20 Texas A&M 38, South Carolina 21 Florida 31, Georgia 24 Arkansas 52, UT-Martin 7 Houston 38, Vanderbilt 17 Tennessee 30, Kentucky 27
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written four books involving UK sports, with the newest, "The Kentucky Wildcat Fans’ Bucket List" (with Ryan Clark) due on November 1, 2015. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org