UK's football 'Cats once again enter the final regular season game with high hopes of victory. Kentucky, coming off a bye week, has had two weeks to put into place new plays, new looks, and hopefully a game-winning attitude, because gaining a victory won't be easy (it's never easy when a team has lost 23 straight to the same opponent).
Emotions are running high in Knoxville. The players seem to have conquered their disappointment over Phillip Fulmer's dismissal of a few weeks ago, and with a victory over Vanderbilt last weekend, and their strong week of practice, they seem focused on winning their last game for the soon-to-be deposed Fulmer.
I would like to add my congratulations to coach Fulmer on an exceptional reign at UT. He's been associated with the Tennessee program for 32 years, beginning with his time in Knoxville as a player (four years), then as an assistant to Johnny Majors. He's of course served 16 years (plus four games) as head man of the big orange (he's 16-0 versus UK). He guided UT to their first national championship in like a hundred years, in 1998. He posted a 151-52 career mark ... here's hoping he ends up 151-53.
This year UT has wins versus UAB (35-3), Northern Illinois (13-9), Mississippi State (34-3), and last weeks road win against Vandy (20-10). The Vols losses shape up this way: @UCLA (27-24 in ot), home against Florida (30-6), @ Auburn (14-12), @ Georgia (26-14), home against Alabama (29-9), @ South Carolina (27-6), and at home against Wyoming (13-7).
Tennessee Offensive Personnel
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton: 6'4", 220 lb junior -- This year Crompton has thrown for 788 yards and three touchdowns, while going 80 for 159 and five interceptions. For his career Crompton has completed 118 of 267 passes for 1,286 yards, eight touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
Fulmer said this week that Crompton will be the likely starter this week versus UK.
Quarterback B.J. Coleman: 6'3", 210 lb red-shirt freshman -- In three games this year, Coleman is 4 for 8 passing, for 21 yards, one interception and zero touchdowns.
Coleman was limited this week in practice with a foot injury. Fulmer said this week that Coleman would probably see action against Kentucky.
Running back Arian Foster: 6'1", 215 lb senior -- The '07 Second Team All-SEC selection has rushed 110 times for 511 yards (4.6 yards per carry). He's run for one touchdown. He also has 18 catches for 149 yards (8.3 yards per catch), but no receiving touchdowns. For his career Foster has rushed for 2,905 yards, which is good for second place all-time in Tennessee history. Foster has proved to be multi-talented, evidenced by his 82 career receptions for 685 yards. The senior is third all-time in UT history with 3,804 all-purpose yards, behind Stanley Morgan ('73-'76) and Willie Gault ('79-'82).
Foster as made a nice living at UK's expense over the years: In '05 versus the 'Cats he carried the ball 26 times for 114 yards and caught five passes for 44 yards. Last year he rushed 27 times for 118 yards and caught 9 passes or 98 yards and a touchdown, on UT's first play from scrimmage.
Running back Lennon Creer: 6'1", 210 lb sophomore -- This year Creer has rushed 67 times for 364 yards (5.4 yards per carry), and three touchdowns. For his career Creer has ran the ball 103 times for 578 yards (5.6 yards per carry), and four touchdowns. He was honored as a PrepStar All-America coming out of high school in Texas. He was also named the Old Spice Redzone Player of the Year in Texas.
Running back Montario Hardesty: 6'0", 210 lb junior -- Hardesty has 69 rushes for 252 yards (3.7 yards per carry), and six touchdowns. He's also caught four passes for 24 yards. For his career Hardesty has 270 carries for 1,027 yards (3.8 yards per carry), and 13 touchdowns.
Wide receiver Gerald Jones: 6'0", 185 lb sophomore -- Jones has made 27 catches for 308 yards (11.4 yards per catch).
Last year versus UK, Jones caught a touchdown pass in the first overtime.
Wide receiver Lucas Taylor: 6'0", 185 lb senior -- Taylor has made 26 catches for 372 yards (12.8 yards per catch), and one touchdown this year. For his career he has 113 receptions for 1,43 yards, and six touchdowns.
Last year against Kentucky Taylor had six catches for 103 yards and one touchdown.
Wide receiver Austin Rogers: 6'2", 185 lb senior -- Rogers has made 14 catches for 180 yards (12.9 yards per catch). For his career he has 76 receptions for 891 yards (11.7 yards per catch), and four touchdowns.
Rogers was the cause of much pain for UK fans last year when he rushed 13 yards for a touchdown, and later caught the game-winning two-point conversion in the fourth overtime.
Wide receiver Josh Briscoe: 6'3", 183 lb senior -- This year Briscoe has made 14 catches for 176 yards (12.6 yards per catch), and one touchdown. For is career he has 79 receptions for 866 yards (10.9 yards per catch), and eight touchdowns.
Wide receiver Denarius Moore: 6'1", 185 lb sophomore -- Moore has 10 catches for 208 yards (terrific 20.8 yards per catch), and one touchdown. In his short career he has caught 24 passes for 420 yards (17.5 yards per catch), and one touchdown.
Tight end Luke Stocker: 6'6", 245 lb sophomore -- The Madison Central High School grad, and Berea native, has made 13 catches for 139 yards (10.7 yards per catch). For his career he has 17 receptions for 150 yards (8.8 yards per catch), and a touchdown.
Placekicker Daniel Lincoln: 6'0", 204 lb sophomore -- On the year Lincoln has made 10 of 17 field goal attempts. From 20-39 yards he's 8 of 11, and from 40-49 yards he's 2 of 3. For his career he has made 31 of 46 attempts. Lincoln was honored last year as an All-America by the Football Writers, and a Freshman All-America. He was also named Second Team All-SEC. Lincoln was a Groza Award semifinalist in '07( which goes to the nations top placekicker).
Tennessee Defensive Personnel
UT's defense is loaded with talent. They possess size, speed and experience. So it should not come as a surprise that the Vols rank very high nationally in nearly every statistical category: Total Defense - 6th (269.9 yards allowed) ... Scoring defense - 16th (17.4 points per game) ... Passing defense - 9th (166.2 yards per game) ... Rushing defense - 14th (103.7 yards per game).
Tennessee's defensive dominance begins with all-world ...
Safety Eric Berry: 5'11", 195 lb sophomore -- Berry has recorded 67 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, seven interceptions (265 INT return yards and two touchdowns) and six pass break-ups. Berry was named SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year in '07. He was also a consensus Freshman All-America and of course made Freshman All-SEC. In '07 he was voted Second Team All-SEC, and he led all SEC freshman with 86 tackles. Berry has 487 career interception return yards in only 24 games played. He's threatening the NCAA record of 501 yards, set by Florida State's Terrell Buckley. He is one of three finalists for the Thorpe Award, which goes to the nations top defensive back, and he's the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Needless to say, Berry has to be accounted for on every UK offensive snap.
Last year versus UK he recorded a season high 14 tackles and one pass break-up.
Linebacker Ellix Wilson: 5'10", 225 lb senior -- Wilson leads the Vols with 80 tackles. He has recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, and two pass break-ups.
Wilson recorded one sack last year versus UK.
Linebacker Rico McCoy: 6'1", 221 lb junior -- McCoy has 79 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and three pass break-ups. He was named Second Team All-SEC in '07.
Last year against UK McCoy recorded nine tackles and one pass break-up.
Defensive back Dennis Rogan: 5'10", 185 lb sophomore -- Rogan has 50 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, and five pass break-ups. Rogan also returns kick-offs, averaging a solid 24.9 yards per return.
Last year versus Kentucky, Rogan had three tackles and one tackle for loss.
Linebacker Nevin McKenzie: 6'2", 215 lb senior -- McKenzie has made 46 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks, one interception and one pass break-up. He's a JUCO transfer.
Defensive tackle Dan Williams: 6'3", 310 lb junior -- Williams has 46 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and one pass break-up.
Last year Williams blocked a Lones Seiber field goal attempt, which ended up costing UK the football game.
Defensive end Robert Ayers: 6'3", 275 lb senior -- Ayers has 43 tackles, a team leading 14.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one interception, one pass break-up, and eight quarterback hits (tied for team lead).
Last year versus UK he recorded four tackles and one tackle for loss.
Defensive end Wes Brown: 6'4", 256 lb junior -- Brown has 37 tackles. 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits (tied for team lead with Ayers).
Punter Britton Colquitt: Colquitt has punted 38 times for a 43.2 average. He's had no punts blocked. Colquitt was selected Second Team All-SEC in '07.
Kicker Chad Cunningham: He's kicked-off 37 times, and recorded three touch-backs.
How did Tennessee beat Vandy ...
After UT's home loss to Wyoming (13-7) a few weeks ago, many thought the Vols may very well 'mail in' the remainder of the season ... 'many' would be wrong. Tennessee responded with defensive gusto in their 20-10 victory over Vanderbilt last week. Let's take a look at what enabled UT to come out with that seemingly improbable victory:
- UT ran the ball, Vandy did not -- The Vols rushed for 222 yards on 51 carries (4.4 yards per carry), while limiting Vandy to only 25 yards on 28 carries (0.9 yards per carry). Tennessee was led in rushing by Lennon Creer with 80 yards on only 13 carries (6.2 yards per carry). Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty chipped in with 53 yards and 41 yards respectively.
- UT contained Vandy's passing game, and the Vols weren't forced to pass -- Vandy quarterbacks Chris Nickson and MacKenzie Adams were a combined 19 of 44 for 188 yards, and two interceptions. Tennessee's D-line and linebackers pressured the Vandy QB's all day, finishing with six sacks. Fulmer went with the run game almost exclusively (he did say this week that he would like to throw more against UK). The two UT quarterbacks finished the day only 4 of 9 for 21 yards, and two interceptions (let's HOPE they throw more).
- UT didn't have to go far to score -- UT managed only one sustained drive: a nine play 65 yard drive, which resulted in the only offensive touchdown of the day for the Vols. UT's other 'drives' and scores: five play 27 yard drive, which resulted in a field goal -- this drive was facilitated by a Vandy eighteen yard punt. Eric Berry returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown, and after a 69 yard interception return by Brent Vinson, UT ran two plays for zero yards and again kicked a field goal. All of UT's scoring occurred in the first half.
It will take a tremendous offensive and defensive effort to beat the Vols in Knoxville. But it can be done: UK must force Tennessee to pass the ball, and there are only two ways to do that -- Shut down the UT ground attack, or score early and often, putting the Vols in the position of having to throw the ball in order to play catch up.
Neither of those scenarios are highly likely to happen though, after-all, UK's 50th ranked run defense gives up 136 yards per game on average, and we've seen a number of backs post huge numbers against the 'Cat's defense this year. Getting off to a quick offensive start has also not been UK's forte this year; they've been outscored 98-31 in the first quarter, with many of those points coming off of UK turnovers, or other, more creative methods.
Kentucky's only real hope (other than forcing a multitude of turnovers) is for Randall Cobb to play out of his mind. With UK decimated by injuries to so many offensive players, Cobb will be the one looked toward to provide energy and creativity within the context of the offense. In order to fully utilize Cobb's multifaceted offensive arsenal, I feel that the run to pass ratio should be around 60-40 or 65-35, run. Kentucky has the talent to wear down UT's defensive unit, but the coaches have to stay with the run. UK has been far too successful running the spread/option sets to give up on the tactic if early success is not forthcoming. As an aside, I would really be pleased if 6'5" TE Maurice Grinter was utilized more when UK opts to throw the ball. He's a nightmare match-up for a linebacker, because of his size, athleticism and speed, plus he as Charmin-soft hands, and he gains yards after the catch.
On a positive note; UK does have one aspect of this game going their way, and that's the fact that they've had an extra week to prepare. Hopefully, we will see some new looks from Joker Phillips and Rich Brooks, if not, it could be a very long evening for the boys in blue.
Most prognosticators are predicting a low scoring affair. I say ...
Kentucky -- 20 Tennessee -- 17 ... hope springs eternal, and 7-5 looks a lot better than 6-6.
UK punter Tim Masthay has been named a First Team Academic All-America, and he currently ranks third in the NCAA in punting with a 45.6 yard average.
Congratulations to the UK senior. Truly, a job well done.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats beat Tennessee!