It’s been a bizarre season for the Kentucky offense. A year ago, the Wildcats showed great promise, averaging 32.3 points and 425 yards a game, each the best mark in years for UK. Yes, all-everything wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson headed to the NFL and, yes, a few offensive linemen moved along. But Kentucky returned developing QB Will Levis, standout RB Chris Rodriguez, a handful of experienced linemen and some skill position standouts. What could go wrong?

Now 7 games into the 2022 season, the answer has been plenty. Kentucky has averaged 26.4 points and 374 yards a game. Levis missed the South Carolina game with a foot injury. Rodriguez missed the first 4 games due to a suspension. Kentucky’s tackles have sometimes been turnstiles (UK allowed 25 sacks last season and has allowed 26 so far in 2022). The receivers are true to their billing, but have had issues with consistency and staying healthy.

But Kentucky’s last game, a 27-17 win against Mississippi State, suggested the Wildcats offense finally might have arrived.

The running game, conspicuously absent for most of 2022, was back. Kentucky’s runners had failed to crack 121 yards for each of the first 6 games of the season. But against the Bulldogs, UK rushed for 239 yards, mostly from Rodriguez. He is a big part of the change, as Kentucky is comfortable running inside the tackles instead of trying to bounce every carry into a high-risk edge run. And maybe it was the good work on the ground affecting the rest of the game, but the Wildcats offensive line kept Levis upright better than it had all season. allowing just 1 sack and 4 tackles for loss, amounting to just minus-8 yards.

Meanwhile, the bye week should have Kentucky’s receiving corps back near 100 percent. Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson missed the State game, but is apparently well again. Robinson has been Kentucky’s most consistent inside receiver, leading the team in catches (25) and receiving yards (392) as well as tying for the team-high in touchdown grabs (3). Freshmen Dane Key (20 catches, 322 yards, 3 TDs) and Barion Brown (24 catches, 350 yards, 2 TDs) are each improving every week as they gain more experience and familiarity with SEC defenses.

It’s time for Kentucky’s offense to step forward. In Josh Heupel’s 2 seasons in Knoxville, nobody has beaten Tennessee without scoring at least 31 points (Ole Miss last season). Four of the 6 teams to take down the Vols scored more than 40 points. A year ago, Kentucky put up 612 yards against Heupel’s squad … and still lost, 45-42. Kentucky’s defense has plenty to answer for in regard to UK’s hopes of an upset … and for good reason. The Wildcats are 2nd in the SEC in scoring defense and are high on the SEC rankings in pass defense categories. Then again, so was Alabama.

Kentucky’s best defense may well be keeping the Vols off the field. Kentucky is 2nd in the SEC in time of possession, and the Vols are 2nd to last. If Rodriguez can manage another 150 yard game, if the Big Blue Wall starts to revert to old-timey form and keeps its quarterback upright more often than not, and if Kentucky can be methodical and controlled – as opposed to the chaos that the Vols are unleashing on college football in 2022 – Kentucky could be in decent shape.

Defense matters, particularly for Kentucky. But against Tennessee on Saturday, a UK offense as complete and healthy as at any point this season may have to carry the day. While the long view might not have been optimistic, the Wildcat offense may be rounding into form at exactly the right time.