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Staff Picks: Tennessee vs Kentucky

How confident is the RTT staff in the Vols' ability to stay focused and separate in Lexington?

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The staff went 6-1 both straight up and against the spread last week, with five of the seven members picking Tennessee to keep it close but ultimately fall to Alabama. And indeed, the Vols kept it close, giving themselves a lead and a good chance to win midway through the fourth quarter, but the Crimson Tide pulled it out 19-14. Closest to the Pin goes to Will, whose 30-20 prediction was just five points off the margin and 17 points off the total. But Will was edged out in the comments by yrekacavol, who was the only one in the thread to correctly predict a close, low-scoring affair. He had the Vols coming out on top 21-17, but he made up for being nine points off the margin by only being five points off the total.

This week, the quality of competition drops immensely, and Tennessee's task is to stay focused and leverage their talent advantage. Can they do it? Absolutely. Will they? Let's see what the staff thinks.

Incipient (4-3 straight up, 4-3 against the spread): Fun fact: six out of Kentucky's seven games this season have been decided by eight points or less. Fun fact 2.0: before last weekend's game against Mississippi State, UK's most heavily favored opponent had been South Carolina, who was -7 when they hosted the Cats in week two. Which is to say, they've played a lot of close games against teams that weren't very good. And one against Florida, who everyone thought at the time wasn't very good. The Cats defense hasn't exactly had to run the gauntlet, but they still haven't looked great, giving up 33 to Louisiana-Lafayette, 27 to Eastern Kentucky, 30 to Auburn, and 42 to a Mississippi State team that hadn't eclipsed 20 in SEC play previously. While the Vols have had their share of struggles on offense, they've generally moved the ball pretty well against the non-elite defenses, so as long as they're focused after a tough loss (which, if Butch's history is any indication, they will be), they should put up points. The Tennessee defense has been a bit more hit-and-miss, but Kentucky's offense is no juggernaut, and a solid performance on both sides of the ball should lead to a comfortable win. Tennessee 34 Kentucky 20

Hunter (3-4 straight up, 4-3 against the spread): The Vols should win this game going away:

  1. Kentucky isn't as good as I'd thought they'd be entering the season; and,
  2. Tennessee is much improved from the team that shellacked the Wildcats 50-16 last year.
However, this game comes a week after playing Alabama, and Tennessee has to be careful about coming out flat after the all-out trench warfare of the Third Saturday in October. Kentucky is a solid, well-coached team with some good talent at linebacker and wide receiver-- the Vols cannot sleepwalk through the first half and expect to win. If Dobbs, Hurd, and Barnett have the team ready to play from the opening whistle, it's going to be hard for the Wildcats to stop. Tennessee 41, Kentucky 24

Note: I predicted a 28-14 win in my Q&A with A Sea of Blue, but the more I think about it, the more I think this game is likely to be high-scoring. We'll see if that results in a Dan Rubenstein-style curse against the over/under.

Chris (5-2 straight up, 5-2 against the spread): 1. Lane Kiffin's pseudonym when going out in Lexington is John Calimanly.

2. Anyway.

Y'all know this game is in Lexington, right? Kentucky's going to roll out whatever stops they have, and purely on the basis of yards-per-play they're pretty close to Tennessee. Note: purely on yards-per-play. Tennessee's played a far more difficult schedule to date (swap Arkansas and Alabama for South Carolina and Missouri and see what happens on either end; if you want to get generous, flip ULL for Oklahoma), so Tennessee's likely in a nice slightly-better-across-the-board scenario. The question: what hangs around from last week and what comes back?

I'm not sure Tennessee will be able to maintain the same intensity they had against Alabama for 60 minutes in Lexington, and while I feel better about the pass rush and the midrange passing game (and special teams should be better), some of the coaching tendencies we've seen in the past are likely to show up again. I don't think Kentucky has enough to pull the win out against Tennessee, but I'll be the only guy on this calling for the push. Tennessee 27, Kentucky 18

Charlie (4-3 straight up, 5-2 against the spread): Finally, Tennessee starts the homestretch of their schedule and gets a break from the top tier teams of the SEC. Kentucky comes into this game beaten and bruised from a smackdown by Mississippi State. Tennessee comes into the game pissed off from being 2 minutes away from beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa. A lot of people think this game will be close; I am not one of those people. I think Tennessee takes their frustration out on the Wildcats Saturday. At almost every position the Vols have an advantage and they should expose that as much as possible. I think Kentucky will stall on offense and turn the ball over multiple times and Josh Dobbs & Co. will dominate UK's defense on the ground. To put it simply, Tennessee is going to beat the breaks off Kentucky. Tennessee 45 Kentucky 20

Nathanael (4-3 straight up, 3-4 against the spread): I know some people are worried about Kentucky and think they will give Tennessee all they can handle this Saturday. While Kentucky is certainly improved this season and should finally make a bowl game for the first time in several years and always seems to get up for the game against the Vols, I'm not nearly as worried about the Wildcats as some people. In fact, they don't really scare me at all. As long as Tennessee's pass rush doesn't disappear and can keep up their play from the last two games, Patrick Towels won't be able to beat the Vols by sitting in the pocket and throwing strikes. Put pressure on him, and he'll make mistakes. Tennessee can contain Stanley "Boom" Williams in the run game if that happens. And speaking of the run game, the Wildcats give up over 172 yards a game on the ground. Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, and Josh Dobbs are gonna have a fun time on Saturday. Tennessee 41 Kentucky 21

Joel (4-3 straight up, 5-2 against the spread): Tennessee 38 Kentucky 20

Will (4-3 straight up, 4-3 against the spread): I believe Tennessee is a good football team.  Kentucky got off to a 4-2 start with two brutally close losses, but did so by playing SEC teams currently ranked 8th, 9th, 12th, and 14th in yards per play.  Then they played Dak Prescott and Mississippi State, and gave up 586 yards, 8.14 yards per play, and 42 points.  Tennessee is only ranked 11th in yards per play in the SEC, but given who we've played and who we're about to play I think that's going to change.  I think the Vols can establish a lead doing their thing, and then even if they revert back to their conservative ways, I'm not sure what this Kentucky team can do to stop it.  And if that happens, I like a team that's played nothing but close (FBS) games for two months to figure out they enjoy the opportunity to beat a team down.  And I think all of us are going to enjoy that opportunity too. Tennessee 45 Kentucky 17

Rocky Top Talk Staff Average (3-4 straight up, 4-3 against the spread): Tennessee 39 Kentucky 20

Vegas (for reference): Tennessee -9, over/under 57. Tennessee 33 Kentucky 24