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Staff Picks: Tennessee vs. Kentucky

The picks are in.

Syndication: USA TODAY Brianna Paciorka/The Knoxville News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee hits the road again tonight, heading to Lexington to face the Kentucky Wildcats. The Volunteers are looking to bounce back from a loss last week to Alabama, and they walk into a tough environment tonight. You know the Wildcats have put a lot into this one, especially after last year’s embarrassment.

Can Tennessee get back on track and handle Kentucky off of a bye? We think so.

Terry: Tennessee 27, Kentucky 16

It’s a clash of styles once again here, and I just don’t think Kentucky can do enough offensively to win this one. We saw flashes of the old Tennessee offense last week in the first half against Alabama, but the Volunteers couldn’t finish the job down in Tuscaloosa. That brings them to 0-2 on the road this year.

Make no mistake — this sets up pretty well for Kentucky. Tennessee on the road after a loss, championship hopes essentially are dashed. Kentucky with two weeks to prepare. I get it. I just don’t think the Wildcats can win with a ground game alone, and I certainly haven’t seen enough from Devin Leary this year to have any confidence in their passing attack.

Tennessee hits a big play in the fourth quarter to break Kentucky’s heart yet again.

Nick: Tennessee 21, Kentucky 18

The Vols are difficult to predict right now.

Especially with Kentucky having an extra week to prepare, while UT played a half of football and seemed to forget there was still 30 minutes left in the game. Hopefully that was a learning experience.

We saw that half of what we’ve come to think of a Tennessee offense against Alabama, but then it got totally shut down while the defense was getting lit up after halftime.

Tennessee has to find a way to win a game on the road. Because if they can’t contain Ray Davis, and Devin Leary does just enough to not lose them the game, I don’t have tons of confidence in the offense’s ability to go out and win a game for the Vols.

The key matchup is gonna be the Vols’ front seven against UK’s offensive line. Because if Ray Davis gets to the third level, UT doesn’t have Eric Berry back there to save it. The loss of Kamal Hadden hurts, not for any particular reason other than that he was the Vols’ best cover corner, and because he’d made so much progress this season.

Maybe we see more of the Alabama first-half Milton this week, and maybe we don’t. If we don’t, Jaylen Wright, Dylan Sampson and Jabari Small need to have big games

The defense has to get off the field on third down, which means winning the first and second downs and putting the ‘Cats in third-and-longs. Omari Thomas and the interior defensive-line rotation has to make its presence felt, and James Pearce, Tyler Baron and Joshua Josephs need to get to Leary early and often. If they can do that, I’d bet the defense forces a mistake from Leary before the game’s over.

Every road game Tennessee has played this year, the Vols have had a no-show quarter or half. That just cannot continue to happen if Tennessee wants to still have a chance at having the season it had planned.

Tennessee does just enough to get by, but it’s gonna be another uncomfortable game. .

Matt: Tennessee 24, Kentucky 10

This has potential to be a very ugly game, but two things remain true: Kentucky still struggles passing the ball and Josh Heupel has Mark Stoops’ number, and I believe both of those things continue this week.

The defense missing Hadden definitely hurts the depth, but I believe the pass rush makes that issue negligible.

On offense, I think Joe Milton finds his footing a bit. Nothing too crazy, but I think he plays mistake free football for the first time in a while.

Craig: Tennessee 29, Kentucky 23

I feel like Tennessee will be able to slow Kentucky’s ground game. One thing the Vols can do pretty well this year is hold their own on the ground and gang tackle. Put Devin Leary behind the sticks, and the Vols should be in good shape.

Offensively, the Vols should continue to utilize Joe Milton’s legs. Josh Heupel hinted this week at Milton’s limited use as a runner earlier in the season had to do with Joe getting healthy, and after last week’s increase, that appears to be the case. The passing game also woke up a bit last week, and Milton and Squirrel White showed a good rapport.

A solid win to get things back on track.

Christian: Tennessee 24 Kentucky 14

I don’t have much confidence in this pick at all. Like, at all. For as great as Josh Heupel has been at Tennessee, his teams have notoriously played poorly on the road, especially in night games. Kentucky has had multiple weeks to prepare for his game, and, while you wouldn’t expect it, Kentucky’s offense has been just as good as Tennessee’s this year — 31.6 points per game (UT), 31.3 points per game (UK).

However, I think last week, at least in the first half, gave us a glimpse of what Tennessee’s offense could look like with Joe Milton as a feature, not a bug. I’m expecting them to try and build on that performance and use Milton’s arm and athleticism as a weapon to open up the offense. That being said, if Tennessee struggles to get the ground game going like they did in Tuscaloosa, and the passing attack can’t put together two good games in a row, it could be a long night for the Volunteers.