It took a tough loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, but Kentucky fans were left with a bad taste in their mouths. For a fan base that has been accustomed to being the weak link in the SEC, this year’s result was disappointing. And the news is that the disappointment was a good thing.
For many recent Kentucky teams, playing Georgia close would be enough. There’s building power in this disappointment, and the Tennessee Vols could be the recipients of a lesson from the Wildcats.
Yes, Tennessee has won 15 games in a row in Neyland Stadium against Kentucky. And 30 of 31 overall from the Cats. But this isn’t your father’s UT team. For one thing, they are beat literally to death. And for another, they haven’t dominated anybody except Tennessee Tech. A win in Knoxville would clinch a UK bowl spot, and keep the Cats alive in the chase for the SEC East.
So how does UK get there?
WHERE WE ARE
Kentucky did what they do against Georgia—grinding out tough yards on the ground, mostly with Benny Snell, although Boom Williams had a couple of big runs early before he appeared to get dinged up a bit. QB Stephen Johnson had a subpar passing day, although much of the blame goes on his receivers and not the quarterback himself. Kentucky’s defense did a good job of bending but not breaking against Georgia, although UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship hit four field goals, including the game-winner.
It was a tough loss for Kentucky, but one in which you could reasonably assert that the Wildcats were the better team. The times, as the great Bob Dylan sang, they are a-changin’.
WHO THEY ARE
Tennessee rose into the top 10 with a 5-0 mark and had vague national title hopes. That was before they lost to Texas A&M, were crushed by Alabama, and dropped a shocker to South Carolina. A 6-3 Tennessee team limps into this week’s game. And limps is the right word. Fighting injuries are CB Cam Sutton, RB Alvin Kamara, and a ton of UT linemen on both sides of the ball. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin is gone for the season, and RB Jalen Hurd left the team. Tennessee’s recent troubles coincide with a loss of key personnel.
Tennessee’s run game has been underwhelming, as leading rusher Hurd (451 yards) is gone from the team. The passing game has been hit and miss, as QB Joshua Dobbs is fifth in the SEC in QB rating (Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson is 7th). UT averages one yard per game more than UK for the season. And the defense, with the exception of All-American defensive lineman Derek Barnett, isn’t very scary either.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Unlike most seasons, this is a game where Kentucky oddly matches up very well. UT is just under a two-touchdown favorite, and definitely has superior talent, although much of that talent is playing at well under 100 percent health. If Kentucky can get a fast start, anything can happen in this game. I think Kentucky is still a year away from beating the Vols, but I’d love to be proven wrong. That said, for the moment, my guess is:
Tennessee 31, Kentucky 24
AROUND THE CONFERENCE
My current power rankings.
Texas A&M (7-2)
South Carolina (5-4)
Ole Miss (4-5)
Mississippi State (4-5)
I’m 64-20 for the year. Here are the best guesses for this week:
Alabama 45, Mississippi State 10
South Carolina 21, Florida 20
Tennessee 31, Kentucky 24
Auburn 38, Georgia 24
Vanderbilt 17, Missouri 14
Arkansas 29, LSU 28
Texas A&M 35, Ole Miss 27
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books, with his most recent, Almost Perfect, to be released in February 2017. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com.