Tennessee heads north this weekend, looking to inch closer to a bowl bid with a win over Kentucky. The Volunteers have owned the Wildcats for the last three decades, even springing the upset over Kentucky last year when they were ranked inside of the top 15. That should serve as motivation for Kentucky, which is also looking to get to six wins to get back to a bowl game.
Can Tennessee keep the momentum flowing? Our staff sure seems to think so.
Terry: Tennessee 21, Kentucky 17
Tennessee is better than Kentucky, plain and simple. The Vols have turned a corner now, giving us five games worth of hope to go off of. They’re playing for a bowl game and for the right to remain big brother over Kentucky, which is about the only team that they can claim that status over these days.
I’m expecting Kentucky to come out angry and ready to fight after what happened last year. At the end of the day, I think the Wildcats become too one-dimensional offensively. If Tennessee keeps the pulse that they’ve had offensively, the Vols should walk away victorious.
But I think it’s a fourth quarter game.
Austin: Tennessee 23, Kentucky 20
Kentucky is an incredibly difficult team to figure out. The Wildcats managed to take Florida down to the wire in their SEC opener. They were able to limit Georgia’s talented offense to just 21-points. And, they throttled Missouri in a game where their starting quarterback — converted wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. — only complete three passes. On the flip side, Kentucky has road losses to two teams that Tennessee has absolutely pummeled this year, and they narrowly escaped a hapless Arkansas team at home.
Ultimately, the Wildcats aren’t a bad team, but they are a flawed one. Terry Wilson’s unfortunate injury really set them back offensively. The last thing a struggling offense wants to see is a Coach Pruitt and Coach Ansley defense that has been lights out for the last four games — with the exception of that one quarter where Alabama had Tua. Kentucky’s bye-week prior to this game likely helped them prepare well enough to keep this game close. But, there is a lot that favors the Volunteers in a close game. The Vols rank better than the Cats in both penalty yards per game and turnover margin. Also, Kentucky’s kickers have combined to go 6/11 on field goal attempts this year, whereas Brent Cimaglia is a Lou Groza Award semi-finalist. Give me a C-Mags 50-yard bomb to win the game at the end of regulation, Vols by 3.
Evan: Tennessee 20, Kentucky 14
This is going to be a really tough game for the Vols.
The key here will be what happens at quarterback for Kentucky and if Tennessee can get pressure and stop the run. Kentucky’s offensive line is probably its best and most formidable position group. Will Tennessee be able to get a push? It’s possible, but it won’t be easy.
Kentucky will likely try and play keep-away to wear down the Tennessee defense. It will be up to Tennessee’s front seven to stay disciplined and aggressive, while also remaining loose enough to make a big play.
On the defensive side of the ball, it’s all about how well the Vols can contain Kentucky’s ground game. The Cats are still effective on the ground without Lynn Bowden Jr., but there’s no doubt they’re a better rushing team when he’s behind center.
If Tennessee can take away Kentucky’s legs, then it shouldn’t be too much of an issue to get a win, but I think Kentucky remains effective enough to give the Vols trouble for all four quarters.
But at the end of the day, it’s another Tennessee win.
Noah: Tennessee 20, Kentucky 13
Kroger Field in primetime with freezing temperatures and two border rivals clawing for a postseason berth? It doesn’t get better than that.
Tennessee showed flashes last season in a campaign that ended with a 5-7 record because they couldn’t close the gap in the final stretch.
It think this year is different. A win against Kentucky would be a sure sign of growth between now and a season ago. Based on recent history, this game would set up as the perfect opportunity for let-down for the Vols.
This will be a defensive battle, but I like Tennessee’s defense, which has gotten better every week, to win it. They’ll set the offense up in position to win the game in the fourth quarter.
Clint: Tennessee 28, Kentucky 17
This pick wasn’t as secure as I once thought it was. Mainly because Tennessee is dealing with some injuries on the offensive line and at quarterback that could really hamstring their ability to move the ball. However, I still feel confident that the defense will do enough to put them in a position to win. As impressive as Lynn Bowden Jr. has been for Kentucky, there’s a reason they were not playing him until injuries forced it. Tennessee’s defense continues to improve each week and they’re going to be focused on stopping Bowden and any spark he provides.
Nick: Tennessee 27, Kentucky 17
The Vols have won three of their last four games and have allowed a stingy 12.7 points per game in the three victories. For the season, Tennessee is 46th (out of 130) in points per-game allowed (24.1), 40th in yards per-play allowed (5.27) and 39th in average yards per-game allowed (351). Those are pretty damn-good numbers considering when the season started, Tennessee couldn’t get the right personnel on the field or manage to have 11 guys in the game and lined up right.
It looks like Kentucky is going to start a wide receiver at quarterback. Normally, that idea would fill you with optimism. But Tennessee is everything except normal, and the last time Kentucky started a WR at QB the Wildcats won the game.
Up is down, down is up — At least the Vols are always interesting.
Kentucky is coming off a bye week, while several Tennessee players are nursing injuries. Let’s hope that 1) QB Brian Maurer and OL Darnell Wright can play effectively and 2) Wanya Morris can rebound from getting benched in his worst performance of the year against UAB.
I’d say the Vols are the better team, but Kentucky was the better team last year and got shellacked. So, I say all that to say this: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯