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KENTUCKY vs. TENNESSEE: It Doesn't Get Any Bigger Than This

We all know about the streak.  We all are embarrassed by the streak.  We're all tired of the streak.  Afterall, losing 24 straight to any school, in any sport, is repulsive to most sports fan's sense of fair play.  It's simply no fun playing the nail, opposite Tennessee's (6-5, 3-4) ball-peen hammer. 

But this game tonight (7:00 PM) isn't about the streak.  It isn't about 24 years of blowouts, near-misses, and overtime heartache.  Rather, this game is about second place in the SEC East.  Nothing else matters.  All the pontificating about streaks are merely window dressing compared to the importance of the game at hand ... the importance of Kentucky (7-4, 3-4) overcoming major injuries to star players, the preseason loss of All-SEC defensive end Jeremy Jarmon, of having to play 11 straight games, and of losses that should have been wins ... for this program to still rise to a  high level of accomplishment in spite of the adversity speaks volumes about the character of the young men wearing the blue and white, and about the elevated level of talent Rich Brooks and staff have brought to Lexington.  And in a year where most predictors of such events had the Wildcats finishing considerably south of second place, for UK to play in the Outback or Chick-Fila Bowl would certainly be an attention-getter both nationally, and within the borders of the Commonwealth. 

Four straight bowl games, and a 31-20 record over the last four years, topped off by a second place finish in arguably the most gruesome division in college football, would certainly qualify as a continuance of the Brooks building process.  And for this group of 'Cats to continue to build on the unique accomplishments they are responsible for this season -- Winning three straight SEC road games since 1909-'12, beating Auburn for the first time since 1961, and beating Georgia between the hedges for the first time since 1977 -- adds to the legacy of Rich Brooks, but more importantly, enriches the perception of the Kentucky football program throughout the high schools of the south and beyond.  Putting the Wildcats that much closer to the goal at-hand -- Becoming a football program that consistently competes at the highest level.

In order for Kentucky to take the next step, they must first conquer the demons in orange.  Here is thine enemy:

Unit Comparison (SEC Rank in Parenthesis)

    • Scoring Offense -- UT 30.6 points per game (5): UK's coring defense -- 22.2 points per game (7).
    • Scoring Defense -- UT allows 20.7 points per game (t5): UK's scoring offense -- 26.5 points per game (7).
    • Total Offense -- UT averages 390.8 yards per game (6): UK total defense -- 355.4 yards per game (8).
    • Total Defense -- UT allows 313.2 yards per game (5): UK total offense -- 342.9 yards per game (10).
    • Rush Offense -- UT rushes for 164.7 yards per game (7): UK rush defense -- 179.3 yards per game (11).
    • Rush Defense -- UT allows 141.3 yards per game (6): UK rush offense -- 196.2  yards per game (5).
    • Pass Offense -- UT throws for 226.1 yards per game (3): UK pass defense -- 176.1 yards per game (6).
    • Pass Defense -- UT allows 171.9 yards per game (5): UK pass offense -- 146.7 yards per game (11).
    • Sacks By -- UT has executed 19 sacks (9): UK sacks against -- 14 (5).
    • Sacks Against -- UT has allowed only 11 sacks (1): UK sacks By -- 15 (12).
    • Third Down Conversion -- UT is at 39.3% (6): UK third down conversion defense -- 39.0% (12).
    • Third Down Conversion Defense -- UT allows a 34.4% conversion rate (5): UK third down conversion -- 39.8% (4).
    • Turnover Margin -- UT is a + 4 (5): UK is a +3 (6).
    • Red Zone Offense -- UT converts 41-46 (89.1%) of their RZ attempts (5): UK red zone defense -- 28-37 (75.7%) (5).
    • Red Zone Defense -- UT has allowed 30-35 (85.7%) RZ scores: UK's red zone offense -- 33-40 (82.5%) (8).

The Tennessee Offense

Jonathan Crompton -- 6'4", 228 lb senior quarterback: This season the formerly embattled UT signal-caller has stepped-up his game considerably.  He has completed 196 of 335 passes (58.5%) for 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  Comparing Crompton's numbers last season -- 86-167 (51.5%) for 889 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions -- to those of this year reveals a much-improved quarterback who has been trusted with the reins of the Tennessee offense.

Crompton has thrown only one interception in the last four games (122 passes).  His two best games this season -- Versus Georgia, he threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns on 20-27 passing; Against Memphis, Crompton was 21-27 through the air for 331 yards and five touchdowns.  Last season versus UK, Crompton was an 6-8 for 101 yards and one touchdown.

Montario Hardesty -- 6'0", 199 lb junior running back: Hardesty's production is another reason for UT's success this season.  He's rushed for 1,127 yards (102.5 yards per game) on 225 carries (5.0 yards per carry), and nine touchdowns.  He's also caught 19 passes for 212 yards (11.2 yards per reception), and one touchdown.

Last week in UT's 31-16 win over Vanderbilt, Hardesty rushed for a season-high 171 yards on 22 carries (7.8 ypc), and one touchdown.  Hardesty has scored at least one touchdown in eight games this year, and he's ran for over 100 yards four times: WKU, Ohio U., South Carolina, and Vanderbilt.

Bryce Brown -- 6'0", 215 lb freshman running back: Brown has carried the ball 98 times for 452 yards (4.6 ypc), and three touchdowns.  He's also caught 10 passes for 137 yards (13.7 ypr), and one touchdown.

Coming out of high school last year, Brown was rated the No. 1 running back, as well as the No. 1 overall prospect in the nation by Rivals.

David Oku -- 5'10", 186 lb freshman running back: Oku has rushed for 94 yards on 23 carries (4.0 ypc) and two touchdowns.  Oku has caught two passes for 13 yards (6.5 ypr).  He's also returned 30 kick-offs for 780- yards (26.0 yards per return).

The Oklahoma native recorded 154 all-purpose yards in UT's game versus Ole Miss.  Coming out of high school last year, Oku was rated the No. 1 all-purpose back in the nation by Rivals, and the No. 30 running back by SuperPrep. 

Gerald Jones -- 6'0", 190 lb junior wide receiver: In 10 games, Jones, UT's top receiver, has caught 36 passes for 497 yards (13.8 ypr) and four touchdowns.  Last season versus UK, Jones caught a touchdown pass in the Tennessee victory.

Jones went for over 100 receiving yards versus Georgia -- Five catches for 105 yards, and two touchdowns.  He also had strong outings against Auburn (seven catches for 75 yards), and Alabama (seven catches for 72 yards), but he's caught only one touchdown pass in the last three games (versus Memphis).

Denarius Moore -- 6'1", 190 lb junior wide receiver:  Moore has made 35 catches for 455 yards (13.0 ypr), and six touchdowns. 

Moore has scored four of his six touchdowns in the last three games.

Quintin Hancock -- 6'3", 207 lb senior wide receiver: In only eight games, Hancock has made 27 catches for 298 yards (11.0 ypr), and two touchdowns.

Marsalis Teague -- 5'10", 180 lb freshman wide receiver: Teague has 13 receptions for 147 yards (11.3 ypr), and two touchdowns.

Teague was rated the No. 4 prospect in the state of Tennessee out of high school by Rivals, as well as the No. 28 athlete in the nation, also by Rivals.

Luke Stocker -- 6'6", 240 lb junior tight end: Stocker has been an integral part of the UT offense, catching 22 passes for 292 yards (13.3 ypr), and four touchdowns.

The Tennessee Defense

Eric Berry -- 5'11", 203 lb junior corner back: Berry has made 75 tackles (49 solo), 5.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and six pass breakups.

The First Team All-SEC selection is UT's defensive force in the secondary, although UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has been bringing Berry up support the run defense.  Don't be surprised if Berry is asked to contain Randall Cobb in tonight's tilt. 

Rico McCoy -- 6'1", 220 lb senior linebacker: McCoy leads the Vols with 99 tackles (59 solo).  He's also posted 2.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, four forced fumbles.

In 2006 versus UK, McCoy forced the first fumble of his career.

Dan Williams -- 6'3", 327 lb senior defensive tackle: Williams has recorded 56 tackles (28 solo), and he's tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 8.5.  He's also has 2.0 sacks, and a team-leading nine quarterback hurries.

In UT's four overtime victory over UK in 2007,  Williams had a game-changing field goal block.  Well, it wasn't so much as a block, as the ball being kicked directly into his face mask.  There is no doubt that Williams is a defensive force that must be dealt with by the UK offensive line.  They must keep him away from Morgan Newton, and run away from him in the ground game.

Chris Walker -- 6'3", 232 lb junior defensive end: Walker has made 34 tackles (16 solo), and he's tied for the team lead with 8.5 tackles for loss.  He leads UT with 6.0 sacks, and he's also recorded two interceptions and one pass breakup.

Dennis Rogan -- 5'10", 178 lb defensive back: Rogan is third on the team with 56 tackles (35 solo).  He's executed 4.0 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, and five pass breakups.  He's also recovered two fumbles.  Rogan will also return punts.  This season he's returned six punts for 46 yards (7.7 yards per return), and two kick-offs for 52 yards (26.0 ypr).

In 2007 versus UK, Rogan returned three punts for 24 yards (8.0 ypr), and two kick-offs for 48 yards (24 ypr).  He had three tackles, including his first tackle for loss.

Chad Cunningham -- Cunningham serves as UT's punter and kick-off artist -- He's punted 44 times for a 41.5 average.  He's kicked-off 64 times, and has only four touch-backs.

Daniel Lincoln, Cunningham, and Devin Mathis have all kicked field goals for the Vols this season -- Lincoln is 10-16 (62.5%), Cunningham is 1-2 (50.0%), and Mathis is 1-1 (100%).  Lincoln missed last weeks Vanderbilt game. 

The three have combined to miss only one field goal under 40 yards.

Tennessee Wins (Teams in bold represent common opponents)

63-7 over WKU, 34-23 over Ohio U., 45-19 over Georgia, 31-13 over South Carolina, 56-28 over Memphis, and 31-16 over Vanderbilt.

Tennessee Losses

19-15 to UCLA, 23-13 to Florida, 26-22 to Auburn, 12-10 to Alabama, 42-17 to Ole Miss.

CliffsNotes Analysis

Tonight's battle represents two teams vying to succeed in the same areas -- Even though UK's two biggest play-makers are banged up (Cobb's shoulder, and both of Locke's knees), after Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster gashed the Vols for 282 yards on 25 carries (11.6 ypc) and four touchdowns, the 'Cats will look to gain the bulk of their yardage on the ground. 

Although UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton has proved to be much improved over last year, because of UK's weak run defense, look for a steady diet of UT running backs looking for holes.  Hardesty, Brown, and Oku will get a healthy dose of carries in an attempt to control the clock, and bury UK with a ground game suited to do just that.

Look for Randall Cobb to have a big day.  Although Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin wasn't in place during Cobb's recruitment, I expect Cobb will be highly motivated to display to his hometown team what they are missing. 

It's really pretty simple -- UK must run the ball to the tune of at least 4.5-5.0 yards per carry, and Morgan Newton must continue to come through in the clutch with on-target throws if UK hopes to come out victorious.  Recently Newton has been excellent at not turning the ball over ... that trend must continue.

Likewise, UK's defense must find it within themselves to stop the run.  UT's three primary ball-carriers are legitimate, dangerous weapons.  The Vols rushing for 200 + yards will surely spell doom for the 'Cats.

Field position will also play a big role in tonight's outcome.  With UK in possession of two of the best return men in the SEC (Cobb and Locke), this category seems to be a plus for the 'Cats. 

Last week versus Georgia, UK saw first-hand the advantage gained by creating turnovers (they were +4).  The 'Cats must continue to hit hard, hit often, and hit with a purpose.  If the UK defense comes to play, I like the 'Cats chances of partying like it's 1984 -- UK's last victory over the Vols.

Fearless Prediction

Kentucky - 27  Tennessee - 24

For Tru's take on the game, and a listen to a podcast interview we did with the guys from Rocky Top Talk, please scroll down.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Vols!