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Better Know A Final Opponent: Kentucky

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Well, this is disappointing. Also, it'll be ugly.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So it's Thanksgiving, Tennessee's football season ends on Saturday, and hey look, what up 2014. I see you looming in the distance, looking all pretty with hope and the like. I can't introduce myself formally yet, though; I've got this erstwhile basketball team playing football in front of me.

Which one, you ask? Fair question.

The basics:

  • Kentucky is not good. 12th in the SEC in rushing offense (4.11 yards per attempt, 16 TD), 11th in passing offense (6.8 yards per attempt, 12 TD, 6 INT). Rush defense isn't any better (12th in the SEC, 4.89 yards per attempt, 24 TD), and the passing defense might make it worth it to pass 6-10 times (14th in the SEC, 8.2 yards per attempt, 20 TD / 2 INT).
  • The advanced stats aren't any better: Kentucky grades out at 93rd in F+/- (-12.3% overall, thanks mostly to a terrible defense; Tennessee is now 76th at -7.0% on the backs of - you guessed it - a terrible passing game) and 90th in S&P (Tennessee somehow moved up - I think - after last week, coming in at 62nd; Vanderbilt's 66th). This is not a good football team. Then again, Tennessee isn't great.

The perpetrators of this:

  • Kentucky's been a QB rotation - we're being charitable here - between Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith. Neither is great passing the ball - Whitlow's at 6.5 yards per attempt, 14.5 attempts per game, and 5/5 TD/INT, while Smith is 7.0 yards per attempt, 18.1 attempts per game, and 7/1 TD/INT - but Smith is marginally better. Of course, the other half of that is Whitlow runs more and is more mobile than Smith's mobility, which is about a 10 on the 20-80 scale. He's also slightly more accurate (61.6% to 55.2%), but neither are anything to write home about. This seems to be a classic case of having no QBs but using two.
  • The running game is ...inconsequential. Three guys - Raymond Sanders III, Jojo Kemp, and the aforementioned Whitlow - are effectively tied for the lead in rushing. This isn't a compliment, for the record; Kemp's the most effective at 4.84 yards per carry while the other two average about 4.3 yards per carry apiece. The threat - if there is one here, but we're being nice because we can afford to - is Dyshawn Mobley, who saw a bunch of action against Georgia last week and is pulling down 6 yards per carry.
  • Ryan Timmons will factor in to the running and passing games in theory; best as I can figure, he's a low-rate Andre Debose, who himself was a low-rent Percy Harvin, to give you an idea. He'll probably carry it a couple of times, pull down a couple of passes, and get way more media attention than 4 touches per game deserves. (Also, he's still listed as "Athlete" on cfbstats, which is bizarre and probably a sign that he hasn't done enough yet to make it worth characterizing.)
  • Then again, he's also the second-leading receiver on the team. Javess Blue (13.8 yards per reception, 4 catches/game) is the only other guy worth paying attention to. If you remember the all swing pass, all the time passing game of the first half against Vanderbilt last week, this is Kentucky's entire passing offense based on their yards per reception. Jeff Badet is their deep threat, and I use that in the weakest, most ironic sense of the word.
  • If you vaguely remember Alvin Dupree from last year's game, that'd be fair; he was Kentucky's only solid defender. That applies this year as well, although in this case solid means he's getting behind the line less than one time per game. Again: not a good team.
  • Blake McCain - a freshman corner - has the third-most tackles on the team. He might be getting thrown at some. Nate Willis might be decent but will miss the game with a knee injury - I'm guessing he's their best corner.
  • Kentucky's broken up 27 passes and picked two off. That's a bit unlucky McCain, by the way, is second on the team with 4 PBU, and Willis - the injured dude - leads the team.
  • Joe Mansour is 12/13 in FG kicking. You know that whole thing where Michael Palardy was listed as an impact player against Vanderbilt? Yeah, both kickers might be impact players on Saturday.
  • The biggest danger in the Kentucky return game is Tennessee's kick return defense.

Given all the guff I've given Kentucky, you might think this game will be a nice-looking Tennessee blowout. Don't get cocky. This game will be hideous.