What happened against the Mississippi State Bulldogs can't be changed at this point in time, but avoiding the same result two weeks in a row is extremely important to the season. The Kentucky Wildcats will welcome a Tennessee Volunteers team that is similar in the fact that it is a team comprised of multiple young players in key positions that don't know how to win consistently.
The Vols have blown multiple leads in losing efforts. They blew early lead against Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Florida, and lost a close one at Alabama. Their three wins consist of laughers over Bowling Green and Western Carolina, and a seven point come from behind victory over Georgia in Athens.
Clearly, the Volunteer team has talent, but they have weaknesses as well. Let's get to know them.
School: The University of Tennessee
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Celebrity Alumni/Attendees: Peyton Manning, Jeff Baxter (Nike designer), Dolly Parton (Queen of Nashville)
Mascot: Smokey the Hound. I admit, I love Smokey.
Coach: Butch Jones (15-17)
2015 Record: 3-4 (1-3)
Current Ranking: #55 according to Real Time RPI (Kentucky is ranked #59)
Vegas Says: Kentucky +8.5
Volunteer Offense: Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd are the straws that stir the drink of the Vols, and they are accompanied by some talented wide receivers and a very good tight end with Ethan Wolf.
Dobbs is a junior that has thrown for 1,272 yards, nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has also accounted for 387 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Is he as good as Dak Prescott? No, but he will present the exact same problems that Prescott presented to the 'Cats last week. He doesn't make many bad throws and he can kill you on the ground. He ran for 136 yards against the Florida Gators defense, that's as impressive as it gets.
Accompanying Dobbs in the backfield is Jalen Hurd, a highly touted recruit that has the ability to be a game-changer. He is well on his way to being a 1,000-yard rusher with 664 already tallied and eight touchdowns. At 6'4, 240 pounds, the sophomore is a combination of bruiser and athlete. He can pound out the yards and he has the speed to break the big play. He has had 3 100 yard rushing games on the season against Bowling Green, Oklahoma, and Florida. He's very good and is scary good with the combination of Dobbs.
In total offense, they rank sixth in the conference, which isn't bad considering the competition they have faced thus far. Their rushing offense is their bread and better, ranking third in the conference at 222 yards per game, behind only LSU and Georgia. In contrast, the Wildcats rank eleventh in rushing defense. Without Melvin Lewis manning the nose tackle position last week against the Bulldogs, the Wildcats had no pass rush and allowed the Bulldogs to run all over them.
They are tenth as far as passing is concerned, but that doesn't mean too much. If Dobbs is allowed the time that Prescott enjoyed, he could easily pick apart the Kentucky defense. Luckily Jason Hatcher is back this week as he is probably the best pass rusher on the team when he is on the edge.
Volunteer Defense: Tennessee's defense ranks next to last in the league and is the primary reason that the team has given up so many leads. They are allowing 418 yards per game, 170 on the ground and 248 in the air.
Their defense is extremely young but has one standout veteran in Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who is third in the SEC in overall tackles with 56. He is a guy that will play on Sundays and is by far the best players on the defense.He also has eight tackles for loss.
They don't do a great job of pressuring the quarterback, so this is a big opportunity for Kentucky to do some damage in the air. Unfortunately, Patrick Towles has been inconsistent as a passer, while Jeff Badet, Garrett Johnson, and Dorian Baker have to be consistent catching the ball and making plays with it.
Kentucky has been able to move the ball lately, particularly through the air, but have failed to make it count in the red-zone, coming out with only three points or no points at all. Kentucky will be able to move the ball against the Vols but can they make it count?
Likely Outcome: I wish I could say that I have a good feeling about this game but I don't. Kentucky's defense was absolutely exposed by Mississippi State and the offense sputtered, especially in the second half. Tennessee does well in all of the areas that can kill the Wildcats on defense.
The run defense or the pass rush is non-existent at this point. The loss of Melvin Lewis is hurting more than we thought it would and Matt Elam isn't ready to be the player that we all expect him to be. Having Jason Hatcher back will help and Mark Stoops is giving some young guys opportunities in the secondary, but if the defensive line again gets dominated, none of it will matter.
My one hope is that Towles and the receivers will be on their A game on Saturday night and that CJ Conrad is utilized more as an offensive weapon. I don't think he gets enough targets and he could be a huge difference maker on Saturday. He hasn't dropped a ball that I can think of and is fast enough to make some YAC.
I hope I'm wrong, but I think another double-digit loss is at hand.
Kentucky Wildcats 20 - Tennessee Volunteers 34