Fresh off a defensive masterpiece against Mississippi State, Kentucky heads to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. Yes, for those of us from the mountain area, Tennessee and not Louisville is the border rival we emphasize most. And yes, it has been since 1984 when the Cats last won at UT. That said, the professional gamblers out in Vegas have set the point spread at a mere five or six points. So the Wildcats have a puncher’s chance at a win in Knoxville.
If you could send back time to halftime of last Saturday’s game, the Vols were living well. They were 2-0 with a close win over South Carolina and a dominant one over Missouri, and led No. 3 Georgia 21-17 at the half. It was a game that threatened to send shock waves through college football. But in the second half, the Vol offense went: fumble, interception, punt, punt, punt, fumble returned for a touchdown, out on downs, end of game. And Georgia won 44-21.
The Vols rely heavily on senior QB Jarrett Guarantano, who has played like Joe Montana against the Cats in seasons past. That said, Guarantano was on the business end of all three second-half turnovers against Georgia. When he’s hot, he’s a top-tier SEC quarterback. When he’s not, he can cough up the football multiple times.
Tennessee has a legitimate ground game, with backs Ty Chandler and Eric Gray each playing well in the first two games. Georgia held UT to minus one rushing yard on 27 carries, with a long run of eight yards. If Kentucky could be anywhere near as efficient in stopping the run, it would put a tremendous amount of pressure on Guarantano.
The Cats will have to cover Josh Palmer, who had two scores against Georgia and could be the threat on the deep ball that UT always seems to find against Kentucky.
Defensively, UT linebacker Henro To’o To’o is a presence that always has to be watched. Kentucky’s offensive line had a poor week last time out, but managing to keep a body or two on UT’s superb linebacker will go a long way in Knoxville.
About the Cats
Kentucky’s 24-2 win over Mississippi State was a sight for sore eyes. The defense that Ole Miss had marched up and down the field on suddenly sprang to life, with six interceptions, a couple of sacks, and a healthy amount of QB pressures.
This was important because the Kentucky offense laid a good sized egg, managing just 157 total yards of offense. QB Terry Wilson struggled, in part because of poor protection, in part because of a stuck in the mud game plan.
Kentucky will miss RB Kavosiey Smoke again, as his rib injury is still keeping him out of the UK backfield. If Kentucky struggles to open the game, don’t be surprised to see QB Joey Gatewood get a shot at jump-starting the offense. Stoops and Company are loyal to Wilson, but if Kentucky wants to salvage a .500 season, the Cats almost have to win Saturday.
So what’s the final thought? Stoops and UK have proven to be streak busters, ending several decades-long droughts. Could winning in Knoxville be the next one? Much like the Florida streak, which everyone had expected to end for years only for the Cats to drop game after game (until they finally didn’t!), the wise course is to take the conservative route on this streak. I’ll believe the Cats end it when I see it. Until then,
UT 23, Kentucky 20
Around the SEC
Not much action otherwise to pick, based on the league’s struggles with COVID-19.
Auburn 31, South Carolina 21
Ole Miss 38, Arkansas 35
Texas A&M 31, Mississippi State 24
Alabama 35, Georgia 24
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County and has written or co-written nine books. His most recent, "A Fine Team Man: Jackie Robinson and the Lives He Changed," was released in February 2019 and can be ordered on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com.