For the first time in five years, the Kentucky Wildcats (4-7, 1-6) will play their final game of the year in the month of November, as they take on the 5-6 (1-6) Tennessee Volunteers at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday afternoon at 12:21 ET (SEC Network).
Today is also the day we say goodbye to 20 Wildcat seniors. Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy, Ryan Tydlacka, Stuart Hines, Matt Roark, Randall Burden, Chandler Burden, Nick Melillo, Ronnie Sneed, Billy Joe Murphy, Jake Lanefski, Taiedo Smith, Mychal Bailey, Luke McDermott, Mark Crawford, Anthony Mosley, Antwane Glenn, James McDevitt, Jon Thomas, and Nik Brazley all end their collegiate careers today on the turf of Commonwealth. In a year filled with disappointment, fan frustration, and unfulfilled promise, how sweet would it be to erase the memory of the season lost with a disgustingly long-needed win over Tennessee? Talk about goin' out in style.
Simply put, the Vols are playing for a bowl bid, a fact surely not lost on the boys in orange, but perhaps more important, this team, and particularly this coach, are playing to NOT be the first team to lose to UK since Flock of Seagulls rocked the charts.
After missing five games with an injury, sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray (6'6" 210-pound) made a triumphant, if not spectacular return to the UT lineup in the Vols' 27-21 overtime win over Vanderbilt last week -- UT coach Derek Dooley showed his significant hind-quarters in the Vol locker room after the game by proclaiming, "The one thing that Tennessee always does is kick the sh__ out of Vandy." Uh, coach, the average score of the UT/VU game over the last four years is 25-15 (now, back to the game) -- Experiencing some obvious rust, Bray tossed two touchdown passes, but completed only 16 of 33 passes with two interceptions against the 'Dores.
A prototypical drop-back passer, Bray, if given time (and if he's shaken the rust off), is capable of picking apart a defense, even a defense which should be in nickel coverage for most of the night -- Prior to his injury, Bray was putting together a very solid season through the first five games with 1,579 passing yards, a 65.9% completion rate, while tossing 14 TDs and only two picks.
In last year's 24-14 Volunteer win over the 'Cats, Bray threw for 354 yards on 20 of 38 passing with two picks and two touchdowns.
Bray's favorite target today will be 6'3" 215-pound sophomore receiver Da'Rick Rogers. On the season, Rogers has caught 65 passes for 1,002 yards (15.4 yard per reception) and nine touchdowns. Speedy and strong to the ball, Rogers poses a real problem UK's secondary, who have given up a number of big plays to wide outs this season, and lead the SEC in allowing 18 touchdown passes on the year.
Mychal Rivera, a 6'3" 254-pound junior tight end, is a distant second to Rogers in receptions with 27, good for 326 yards (12.1 ypr), but only one touchdown. True frosh DeAnthony Arnett (6'0" 175-pounds) has contributed to the Volunteer offense this year with 21 catches for 222 yards (10.6 ypr) and two touchdowns. Another freshman, 6'0" 205-pound running back Marlin Lane (no relation to Nathan), has snagged 16 passes for 159 yards (9.9 ypr) and two touchdowns.
When running the ball, UT will go with 5'10" 215-pound senior Tauren Poole. On the year, Poole has rushed for 661 yards and five touchdowns on 178 carries (3.7 yards per carry). Poole will also catch the ball out of the backfield, evidenced by his 18 receptions for 152 yards (8.4 ypr). The Tennessee tailback is a bullish runner between the tackles, but has the speed to get to the edges. Last year versus UK, Poole carried the ball 17 times for 59 yards and scored one touchdown on a two-yard run.
Helping Poole carry the Orange mail is the aforementioned Marlin Lane. When not catching passes, Lane has rushed the ball 68 times for 255 yards (3.8 ypc) and two touchdowns. Sophomore back Rajon Neal (5'11" 210-pounds) will also get in on the running act; on the season Neal has recorded 25 carries for 130 yards (5.2 ypc) and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the top tackling Vol is senior linebacker Austin Johnson (6'2" 240-pounds). Surrounded by two freshman UT linebackers, Johnson has 74 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and a team-high four interceptions. The first of two rookie backers for the Vols is A.J. Johnson (6'3" 245-pounds), who is second on the team with 71 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss. Curt Maggitt, a 6'3" 215-pound rookie, leads the linebacker corps with 5.5 tackles for loss to go along with his 49 tackles.
Defensive lineman Malik Jackson, a 6'5" 270-pound senior, leads the d-linemen with 49 tackles, and also has 9.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.
Wins: Montana (42-16), Cincinnati (45-23), Buffalo (41-10), Middle Tennessee (24-0), Vanderbilt (27-21 OT).
Losses (otherwise known as "a good day"): 33-23 to Florida (thanks Will), 20-12 to Georgia (thanks Mark), LSU 38-7 (thanks Les), Alabama 37-6 (thanks Nick), South Carolina 14-3 (forget you! Spurrier), and 49-7 to Arkansas (what, are you kidding?).
The 'Cats and Vols Statistically (SEC rank in parenthesis)
Scoring -- UK 16.4 (12) UT 21.5 (10)
Scoring Defense -- UK 26.3 (10) UT 23.7 (9)
Total Offense -- UK 263.6 (12) UT 337.8 (9)
Total Defense -- UK 386.2 (10) UT 351.7 (7)
Pass Offense -- UK 146.5 (12) UT 245.1 (2)
Pass Defense -- UK 191.9 (6) UT 192.6 (7)
Sacks By -- UK 18 (t9) UT 16 (11)
Sacks Against -- UK 35 (12) UT 16 (3)
3rd Down Conv. -- UK 29.4% (12) UT 42.3% (6)
Opp. 3rd Dn. Conv. -- UK 40.9 (10) UT 40.4 (9)
Penalty Yards -- UK 36.1 (2) UT 48.1 (7)
Turnover Margin -- UK minus-2 (10) UT plus-3 (t4)
Red Zone Scores -- UK 22-28 (10) UT 31-37 (7)
Red Zone Defense -- UK 28-35 (t6) UT 30-38 (5)
Wildcats and Vols in the SEC Top 10
Tauren Poole: 10th in rushing with 60.1 yards per game.
Da'Rick Rogers: 2nd in receptions per game with 5.9; 2nd in receiving yards per game with 91.1; 5th in touchdowns with nine; 7th in all-purpose yards per game with 101.3.
Austin Johnson: Tied for 5th in interceptions with four.
Danny Trevathan: 1st in tackles with 135; 1st in forced fumbles with five; tied for 5th with four interceptions; 10th in tackles for loss with 10.0.
Winston Guy: 2nd in tackles with 106; 5th in tackles for loss with 12.0.
La'Rod King: Tied for 6th in receptions per game with 3.5; 7th in receiving yards per game with 54.2.
Matt Roark: 10th in receptions per game with 3.3.
Ryan Tydlacka: 2nd in punting with a 43.7 average.
Craig McIntosh: 2nd in field goal percentage, making 84.6% (11-13); 6th in field goals made with 11.
UK 21 UT 20
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!