If you don’t know much about the history between the Tennessee Volunteers and Kentucky Wildcats - it’s ok, there’s plenty of time to get caught up before the two teams square off in Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
That’s because there isn’t much history other than the fact that the Vols have absolutely dominated the Wildcats since the first matchup all the way back in 1893.
Things have changed recently, however. Tennessee is in one of its worst slumps in program history and Kentucky is arguably the best it’s ever been as a football team as they sit ranked just outside of the top-10.
The Vols match up well with the Wildcats, but will still need to execute perfectly in certain areas if they want to avoid consecutive losses for the first time in over 40 years.
1. Contain Benny Snell Jr.
This is obvious. It’s even more obvious that it’s easier to just sit here and type this out rather than to go out and stop him on the football field.
I realize that Snell Jr obliterated the Vols last season for 180 yards and three touchdowns. He is a top-10 runner in the NCAA and he is going to be a major load for Tennessee this weekend.
The good news for UT is that you need fast, athletic, rangy linebackers to help contain Snell Jr. and the Vols have enough to keep him in check.
It’s no secret that the Kentucky offense is just a couple of baby steps behind the Navys and Georgia Techs of the world when it comes to being one-dimensional. Containing the run would be a major advantage for Tennessee.
Also, take note of the fact that the word “contain” is used here and not the word “stop”. I don’t necessarily believe that the Vols can actually stop him. He averages right around 115 yards per game along with 5.2 yards per carry.
He is just as productive on the road as he is at home, too. It’s going to be a tough test for this defense, but it’s a test that they can pass if they execute the game plan correctly.
2. Force Terry Wilson to throw the ball
Even though Wilson has completed 67% of his passes on the season, he is not a very effective quarterback when he is forced to throw the ball during games.
A lot of his passing success has come when opposing defenses have had trouble stopping him on the ground. It’s basic football, really. Use his mobility in order to keep extra defenders around the ball and then chuck it up when you find the mismatch downfield.
Two Kentucky losses have featured 26 carries for just 16 yards on Wilson’s end. In seven victories, he has run 74 times for 402 yards.
The dink-and-dunk attack should play right into the Vols’ hands as well. They’ve been burned badly by good quarterbacks this year, but have had success - see Jarrett Stidham - when they go up against the lesser-tiered signal-callers.
Wilson puts no fear into Jeremy Pruitt and that should reflect this weekend when these two teams face off.
3. Ever heard of Josh Allen?
If you haven’t, then you probably will by the end of the game. Allen has become one of the fiercest edge defenders in the SEC. He can disrupt any play if he isn’t properly accounted for.
Given the Vols inefficiencies and injuries on the offensive line, this could be a big day for Allen. Tennessee will have to bring help on his side, whether it’s a chip from a tight end or an extra running back in the backfield - anything that can help - this will be crucial for Tyson Helton and Will Friend to figure out before kick off.
Check out the South Carolina game below. Allen had his best game of the year so far, recording eight total tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble.
I think it’s safe to say that the Vols need to keep him out of Jarrett Guarantano’s face if they want any shot to win.
4. Please. Throw the damn ball downfield
This is a topic that will probably continue to highlight most topics of conversation as the year draws to a close.
Why doesn’t Tennessee throw downfield more often?
This team has shown on numerous occasions that they have the right personnel and scheme to pull it off. It was 90% of why the Vols beat Auburn on the road back in October.
The beauty in this is that you don’t even need to throw it downfield to beat Kentucky. Teams have averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt in their two losses. If the Vols can get hit a couple of deep passes early on, then that would open up the underneath routes even more.
Tennessee could then use that blend of deep and underneath routes to create all kinds of headaches for Kentucky. Ty Chandler, Marquez Callaway, Josh Palmer, and Jauan Jennings are the perfect corps of receivers for this task.
Today is the day to abandon the run and chuck the rock. Let’s get it, men.