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Vols must force the game into Devin Leary’s hands

NCAA Football: Missouri at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers showed some warts defensively last weekend, getting absolutely steamrolled in the second half by QB Jalen Milroe and the Alabama Crimson Tide, whose offense has come on since Milroe regained the starting job in late September.

The challenge to defend the pass will be far lesser on Saturday against Kentucky.

The Wildcats passing offense has been, frankly, quite bad so far this season. Mark Stoops addressed the passing game on his call-in show this week as an area they need to get better at.

“Overall, I think the quarterback, wide receivers, protection, just the passing game in general,” Stoops said. “We have to improve in that area. Running the ball, we’ve been pretty effective. We have to be able to continue to work on the pass game and play action game and just improve in that area.”

The numbers back it up. The Wildcats rank 103rd in the country and second to last in the SEC in passing yards per game with just 196.7. As an offense, the Wildcats have only converted 27 of 70 first downs this year (38.6%), 80th in the country. However, they’ve managed to protect Devin Leary relatively well, as their 11 sacks allowed ranks 36th in the country.

Leary transferred to Kentucky in the offseason from NC State and came in with a lot of hype and flair, as he was considered to be one of the top portal prospects in the country. He’s completed only 54.4% of his passes this year for 1377 yards with 14 touchdowns to 7 interceptions.

Our Terry A. Lambert talked on Friday about the need to shut down Ray Davis and the very capable Kentucky running game. This is why. Putting the game on Kentucky’s struggling passing attack and forcing them to make plays is how the Vols win on Saturday.

And it’s certainly possible the Vols defense can do it. They held Alabama’s running backs to a decent 4 yards per carry average. They did a commendable job against Texas A&M. This will be a challenge, but one they are capable of meeting, as the Vols’ defensive front is one of the strengths of the team.

And if they can, the Vols will be set to put the Kentucky passing game to the test. One the Wildcats have failed this year.