Tennessee heads into a somewhat easier back half of its schedule this weekend with a road trip to Lexington to play the Kentucky Wildcats. Most of the season to date has been determining what the Vols can do against elite and rival teams where focus and motivation aren't issues and where the toolbox includes the kitchen sink. Now we're going to start figuring out how they'll do as comfortable favorites in a long season.
Here are my three keys to this game:
Don't gameplan your way into a close game. Everything suggests that the Vols, if they only play the way they've been playing against the elite teams on their schedule, should beat Kentucky fairly easily. But Tennessee may have been at its best against those great teams because they knew they had to be. If they go into the Kentucky game thinking they can just beat the Wildcats with talent and not have to do everything right, they could find themselves in a close game, which I fear would wreak havoc with a fragile collective mindset and tip the scales the wrong direction. If they instead decide that they'll need to do everything they can to win -- utilize Dobbs on designed runs, call a smart, aggressive game designed to keep the defense guessing, and still protect the ball and play a smart field position game -- they should win easily. But I don't think they're an elite team yet that can just roll out there with their base team, standard set of playcalls, and an average Saturday focus and run away with this game. They need to come in with a desire and intent to dominate.
Run, run, run, run, run. Tennessee hasn't played any team this season that is worse against the run than Kentucky. The running game is Tennessee's strength, so they should be able to go to that well whenever they want. They ran for nearly 400 yards against Bowling Green and over 250 against Florida, which is on the other end of the run defense continuum, so something between those two numbers should be the goal against Kentucky.
Limit Kentucky's passing game. Kentucky's passing game is dangerous, and Tennessee's pass defense has been suspect much of this year, so if there's a vulnerability it's here. The Vols will need to limit chunk passing plays by the Wildcats to make sure they don't sniff an upset. Tennessee did a better job of this against Alabama last week, but they'll need to do it again.
My prediction? Tennessee 38, Kentucky 20.
Here's the comparison chart. Tennessee's schedule to date is the 4th-most most difficult and Kentucky's is the 53rd-most difficult. If you're interested in advanced stats, you can find them here (Tennessee's | Kentucky's). They predict Tennessee 35, Kentucky 24.
|Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Closest Lower||Closest Higher||Closest Lower||Closest Higher|
|Tennessee rushing offense vs. Kentucky rushing defense||31||209.1||77||172.7||None||OK/BG||OK/BG||250|
|Tennessee passing offense vs. Kentucky passing defense||86||206.7||75||232.3||AR/BG||FL/AL||AR/BG||FL/AL||220|
|Tennessee rushing defense vs. Kentucky rushing offense||62||162.9||101||139.4||FL||BG||FL||BG||110|
|Tennessee passing defense vs. Kentucky passing offense||91||248.3||44||253.1||FL||AR||FL||AR||250|
|Tennessee scoring offense vs. Kentucky scoring defense||42||33.9||58||25.9||AR/BG||OK||AR/BG||OK||38|
|Tennessee scoring defense vs. Kentucky scoring offense||53||24.7||93||24.7||None||AR||AR||20|