For the first time in 71 years, two ranked teams will take the field in the Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry game as the 19th-ranked Wildcats will face the 3rd-ranked Volunteers in a key SEC matchup on Saturday in Knoxville.
The Vols have dominated the series, including 26 consecutive wins over the Wildcats between 1985 and 2010, and won 45-42 last year in Lexington. However, prior to last season, Kentucky was 2-2 against Tennessee under Coach Mark Stoops with the Wildcats winning in 2017 and 2020.
Tennessee, who recently beat powerhouse Alabama at Neyland Stadium, is the hottest team in college football and could get caught this week looking ahead to its next opponent as the Vols will face No. 1-ranked Georgia in Week 10 to decide the SEC East title.
This week, all eyes will be on a pair of future NFL quarterbacks as Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker leads a high-powered offense that leads the nation in total offense with 571.71 yards per game. Per Late Kick’s Josh Pate, Tennessee is the only team in the country to throw for 320 yards while also getting 200 yards per game rushing.
Hooker is second in the SEC in passing yards with 2,093 and has a 70.62 completion rate, the best in the conference. He also has the highest quarterback rating at 190.84 and has thrown just one interception the entire season. Levis currently ranks seventh in SEC passing statistics and has a total quarterback rating of 173.32, which is good for second in the league. However, he’s also been sacked 20 times, the second most of any quarterback.
Tennessee is currently an 11.5 point favorite via DraftKings and will be looking to take an 8-0 mark into Athens next week against a Bulldogs team that shutout Vanderbilt 55-0 last week. The top three SEC teams - Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama - will also have to fend off the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson to secure a spot in this year’s college football playoffs.
As we enter Week 9 of the season, the standings are getting tight with James Streble hanging on to a one game lead with a .876 winning percentage. Samuel Hahn, Adam Haste, and Jason Marcum are in a three-way tie for second place. Hahn is the only Sea of Blue staff writer to give the Cats the nod this week in Knoxville.
Check out this week’s picks below. Go Cats!
Games of the Week
(19) Kentucky at (3) Tennessee
Coming off the bye week, Kentucky is expected to be close to full strength on Saturday as it makes the short bus trip to Knoxville for a 7:00 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.
This week’s game is all about contrasting styles as Tennessee runs a fast-paced offense that runs the 5th most plays per minute among FCS schools. Kentucky, on the other hand, utilizes a methodical approach under new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello in a system that places the Cats 12th in total offense with just over 26 points per game.
The Wildcats have now had two weeks to prepare for Tennessee’s explosive offensive, something that has been front of mind for the UK coaching staff. Here’s what Mark Stoops, Brad White, and Rich Scangarello all had to say about the game plan this week as it relates to time of possession and keeping things close on the road this week.
Mark Stoops, Head Coach:
“It’s not the end-all, be-all. It never is,” said Stoops when asked about the importance of time of possession against the Vols this week. “We are a methodical team anyway. All you’ve got to do is look at the statistics - not only when we play Tennessee, but when we play anybody. That’s just kind of who we are - that’s our style. Of course, they are the complete opposite and they’re just playing really good football.”
Rich Scangarello, Offensive Coordinator:
“The way they play is going to lend itself to more possessions so we have to make our possessions count,” said Scangarello. “If we do that with points, then we’re OK. If we don’t, yeah, it’s going to be difficult to keep up with them. It’s our job to take care of the rock and make it matter. I’m excited for this challenge. I think it’s two different styles, a tough environment, so you’ve just got to go play your game and let the chips fall where they fall.”
Brad White, Defensive Coordinator:
“There the No. 1 offense right now in the country for a reason,” said White. “You’re not just going in there to completely shut it down. They’re going to make their plays and you have to try to minimize the length, the distance, the sting of those as much as you can. When they make them, you can’t put your head down, you’ve just got to put it behind you and think of it as ‘Hey, they made a play so I’ve got to go make a play back.’ It’s going to be like a heavyweight battle with a punch, and a punch, and keep going back and forth. At the end of the day, you just have to punch until the end and see what happens.”
Without question, this will be Kentucky’s toughest test of the year in what’s always a loud and hostile environment at Neyland Stadium. In the end, matching Tennessee’s offense and getting the Vols off the field on third down, just might be the perfect one-two punch for a knockout.
(15) Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Things have quickly gone from bad to worse for Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher as the Aggies lost 30-24 last week at South Carolina.
Despite a stellar recruiting class, Texas A&M is now 1-3 in conference play and is still feeling the effects of an early-season loss to FCS opponent, Appalachian State, as Fisher is squarely on the hot seat as we approach the final month of the season.
On the other side, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin will look to bounce back from the Rebels’ first loss of the season, a surprising 45-20 drubbing at LSU. Ole Miss has yet to prove it can win big games on the road so this should be a close one as Kiffin and Fisher, two former Alabama assistants under Coach Nick Saban, will be fighting it out for bragging rights.
It should be another exciting week of SEC football so be sure to check TV listings below,
- Georgia 4-0
- Tennessee 3-0
- South Carolina 2-2
- Kentucky 2-2
- Florida 1-3
- Missouri 1-3
- Vanderbilt 0-4
- Alabama 4-1
- LSU 4-1
- Ole Miss 3-1
- Mississippi State 2-3
- Arkansas 1-3
- Auburn 1-3
- Texas A&M 1-3
SEC Football TV Schedule Week 9
- Florida at (1) Georgia (3:30 p.m. on CBS)
- (19) Kentucky at (3) Tennessee (7:00 p.m. on ESPN)
- (15) Ole Miss at Texas A&M (7:30 p.m. on SEC Network)
- Missouri at (25) South Carolina (4:00 p.m. on SEC Network)
- Arkansas at Auburn (12:00 p.m. on SEC Network)