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Tennessee Football Opponent Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Will Kentucky get its first win in Neyland Stadium since 1984?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

After an uninspiring 14-3 win over Charlotte, Tennessee will play its penultimate home game of 2018 on Saturday when the Volunteers host No. 11 Kentucky.

Kentucky (7-2, 5-2 SEC) has surpassed all expectations in 2018, just narrowly missing a chance to win the SEC East for the first time ever and having a New Year’s Six bowl game still well within its sights.

This year’s game between the Volunteers and Wildcats will be the 114th all-time, the most meetings with any opponent for Tennessee.

Kentucky comes to Knoxville as a 6-point favorite, looking to beat Tennessee on the road for the first time since 1984. It will also be the first time Kentucky has played in Knoxville as a ranked team since 1950, when it was coached by Bear Bryant.


The No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats are loaded with talent and have lost just two games this season — yes, we’re still talking about football.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is certainly the best player Tennessee has seen and will see this season, but Kentucky may have the next two best in linebacker Josh Allen and running back Benny Snell.

Allen anchors the SEC’s third-best scoring defense — the Wildcats are allowing just 15.3 points per game — while Snell leads the conference in rushing with 1,008 yards.

Tennessee’s best chance to win is to stack the box against Snell and force Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson to beat it. Wilson has performed better in recent weeks, but is far from the likes of Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm whom the Vols have already seen this season.

Offensively, Tyson Helton and the Tennessee offensive line will need to step up this week to be able to get anything going against Kentucky’s defense. Look for many quick screens and misdirection plays like the Vols ran against South Carolina to try to get a numbers advantage and create some big gains.

Last Week

Kentucky played No. 6 Georgia at home last week in a de facto SEC East Championship, with the winner claiming a spot in the SEC Championship Game to take on No. 1 Alabama.

In the most anticipated Kentucky football game in decades, the Bulldogs were just too much for UK, defeating the Wildcats 34-17. Georgia was the first team to score more than 20 points against Kentucky this season.

Georgia running back D’Andre Swift made light work of the Kentucky defense, rushing for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.

Nobody is doubting that this Kentucky team is good. But last week showed perhaps how far off it is from truly competing with the elite teams in the SEC.

Impact Players

LB Josh AllenA year after Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen was selected seventh overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Kentucky’s Josh Allen may be selected even higher in 2019. Allen leads the SEC with 14.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Going against a spotty Tennessee offensive line could mean huge trouble for the Vols on Saturday.

RB Benny SnellPerhaps the most eccentric personality in the SEC — he has a tattoo across his stomach that reads “Snell Yeah” — Benny Snell has a game to back it up. Snell leads the SEC in rushing with 1,008 yards and has scored 10 touchdowns. Tennessee’s ability to beat Kentucky will be determined largely by how well the Vols’ defense can keep Snell in check and force the Wildcats to throw the ball downfield.

Game Outlook

With Tennessee needing to win two of its final three games to guarantee a bowl berth and Kentucky having beaten the Vols last season for just the second time since 1984, there will be no shortage of motivation in the Tennessee locker room.

As detailed above, this game is going to come down to Tennessee’s ability to contain Allen and Snell. If Snell ends the game with 64 yards rushing and Allen is reasonably kept from wreaking havoc in the Tennessee backfield, the Vols absolutely have a chance to win this game.

Tennessee leads the all-time series against Kentucky 75-25-9, but don’t let that fool you. This isn’t your father’s Kentucky football team.