LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – It still feels strange for Kentucky and Tennessee to be playing football so early in November. There. It’s been said. The traditional SEC season finale around here has given way to a “rivalry week” matchup between Louisville and Kentucky, moving the Vols and Cats earlier in the schedule.
And there’s a different feel in the rivalry overall, since Matt Roark moved from wideout to quarterback and ended the iron-fisted Tennessee hold on the rivalry. Still, Kentucky has not yet achieved what you could call parity in the series, having won just twice since 2010, and twice in the past 34 meetings.
Last season, the Wildcats were still smarting from an SEC East-deciding loss to Georgia – and still ranked No. 11 in the nation – when they went to Tennessee and were subdued far too easily, 24-7. It was a bad look for Kentucky’s best team in 40 years.
This season, UK comes into the game as a favorite – but very slight, at 1.5 points. Kentucky has won two of its past three to stabilize itself a bit, and the loss in that stretch was a tough performance at Georgia. The Wildcats have done it with Lynn Bowden at quarterback, and are coming into the game off a bye week.
Tennessee, left for dead by many after a 1-4 start that included a season-opening loss to Georgia State, has played better of late, winning three of its past four, including victories over a couple of teams (Mississippi State, South Carolina) that beat Kentucky. The Vols haven’t had a bye week since late September, but come into the game on a bit of a roll. Their only loss in the past month was to Alabama.
More game info below:
1). Time: 7:30 p.m., Kroger Field.
2). Where to watch: SEC Network (Tom Hart play-by-play, Jordan Rogers analyst, Cole Cubelic sideline). Where to listen: UK Sports Network, WHAS-840 AM, Serius-133, XM0190 (Tom Leach play-by-play, Jeff Piecoro analyst, Dick Gabriel sideline).
3). Line: Kentucky by 1.5 (UK opened a 3.5 favorite, Tennessee was briefly a 1-point favorite midweek, the max spread was the opening spread). Over-under: 42.
4). Scouting Kentucky: With four games to play, the Wildcats need two wins to become bowl eligible, and will be favored in every game from here on out. While Stoops won’t say what his plans are at quarterback, it’s expected that Lynn Bowden will remain in the position, and after a bye week, should be in position to do a bit more in the passing game. A year ago, Bowden had 52 yards in receptions against Tennessee. Kentucky hasn’t needed a ton of offense, because its defense, without a great deal of fanfare, has steadily improved over the past month. It has held its past three opponents to 305 yards of offense or less – the first time a Kentucky defense has done that since 1979. Kentucky has allowed 24 points or less in 20 of its past 23 games. For the month of October, Kentucky ranked No. 16 nationally in total defense.
5). Scouting Tennessee: What a strange trip it has been for the Vols this year. They have a big-play defense, ranking third in the nation in interceptions, and over the past four games have allowed just 100.5 rushing yards per game (3.5 yards per rush) and 18.3 points per game. But their offense has struggled, despite having one of the top receivers in the nation in Jauan Jennings (brother for former UK women’s basketball player Alexis Jennings), and another, Marquez Callaway, who ranks 11thnationally in yards per reception. The problem for Tennessee has been the question of who can get them the ball. J.T. Shrout has started the past two games for the Vols, but Jarrett Guarantano wound up taking most of the snaps. And, it’s possible that Brian Maurer could return from injury, which would further shore up the Tennessee offense. The Vols are dangerous on special teams, in the punt return game and in the kicking game, with Brent Cimaglia having range beyond 50-yards and ranking third in the nation in field-goal accuracy this season.
6). Spotlight players: In what is expected to be a close game, keeping an eye on the kickers might be a good idea. Cimaglia has been outstanding, “Automaglia” they call him in the Tennessee official game notes. At Kentucky, the kicking game has been more of an adventure, with Chance Poore going 4 of 8 on field goals, with three missed extra points. In a strength-on-strength matchup, while Tennessee is dangerous in the rutnr game, UK punter Max Duffy is having the best season in school history, averaging 48.8 yards per kick.
7). Sideline storyline: Jeremy Pruitt’s seat in Knoxville has been far too hot for comfort, but recent wins have cooled it off considerably. Still, for a Tennessee coach, historically, losing to Kentucky is not recommended. Consider this: The last two Tennessee coaches who lost to Kentucky (Butch Jones, Derek Dooley) didn’t get a chance to coach against the Wildcats again.
8). Fan tip: Saturday is the “Salute to Veterans” game at Kroger Field. UK will celebrate the 100thanniversary of the American Legion with representatives of the Kentucky American Legion attending for a pregame ceremony. UK’s honorary captain for the game is former Wildcat Marty Moore (1990-93), the last pick of the 1994 NFL Draft. He earned a spot on the Patriots and went on to an 8-year NFL career, becoming the first “Mr. Irrelevant” of the draft to play in a Super Bowl. The National Anthem will be performed by Montgomery Gentry guitarist Bo Garrett
10). The picks: Rick Bozich has it Tennessee 27, Kentucky 21; Eric Crawford has it Tennessee 17-14.
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