When rivals meet, you can throw the Vegas betting line out the window. At least, that’s what Kentucky has told itself for years in its series against Tennessee. But this year in Knoxville, it’s the CFP 11th-ranked Wildcats who hope that the gamblers know a thing or two as they find themselves favored over Tennessee.
Kentucky is trying to put together a 2-game winning streak against Tennessee. That hasn’t happened since 1976-77.
What do we think will happen? Glad you asked.
Here are 10 bold predictions for Kentucky vs. Tennessee.
1. Bet the under
I don’t even know what the under is for this game, but this is the SEC’s 13th- and 14th-ranked offenses in scoring and in total yardage. Tennessee couldn’t move the ball on Charlotte last week, and Kentucky hasn’t eclipsed 17 points since September. This won’t be a shootout.
2. Kentucky will pound with Benny Snell
The Wildcats’ star has been quieter than normal, possibly due to some nagging injury issues, possibly due to facing upper echelon SEC run defenses. Last week he became just the sixth running back in SEC history to record 3 1,000-yard seasons. But the run that pushed him over the top came late in a lopsided loss to Georgia, so the accomplishment was largely ignored. Saturday, he’ll jump back in the spotlight.
UT is 10th in rush defense among SEC teams, and Kentucky figures to pound Snell and backup AJ Rose. Snell will break 100 yards rushing in this one.
3. Tennessee will look to run on the edge
Georgia exploited a Kentucky run defense that had looked nearly invincible, and its trick was to suck the Kentucky secondary into the middle of the field and then hammer them on the edges. Look for Tennessee to get Ty Chandler and some other athletes (Marquez Callaway maybe) touches on the perimeter where they can do some damage to a Kentucky defense which starts two linebackers who are playing one-handed (Kash Daniel and Jordan Jones each has a broken hand in a bulky cast).
4. Kentucky will emphasize scoring first — and will actually do it
While Terry Wilson is showing small signs of improvement, Kentucky is much more efficient when it doesn’t have to play from behind. In the past two weeks, the Wildcats entered halftime down 14-3. It took a perfect storm to beat Missouri, and Georgia cashed in an easy win from there. Kentucky will prioritize getting on the scoreboard first, and will actually do it.
5. Tennessee will establish the pass early
Granted, Kentucky struggled with the run and not the pass against Georgia. But safety Darius West will miss the first half of this game due to a targeting call, and UT will make some plays in the middle of the field in his early absence. Tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson is a guy to watch for a potential big play or two.
6. Josh Allen has a big day — even in coverage
Kentucky will feel the loss of West early and might have to do some unusual things — like drop Josh Allen in coverage. Allen is an explosive pass rusher but also is pretty steady running with a receiver. We’ll guess he grabs his first interception of this season in this game.
7. Tennessee shows a special skill
Special teams were a key component in last week’s 14-3 win over Charlotte, and UT seems to be growing more comfortable as the season goes in special teams. On the other hand, Kentucky is very hit and miss. They gave up a big return to Mecole Hardman early last week and have had a few issues in both kicking and coverage lately. Tennessee will shake free with a special teams play in this one — maybe a blocked kick.
8. Wilson will have big day with his legs
Terry Wilson’s solid work in the pass game lately should give him more confidence in knowing when to pull the ball and run. When Wilson can be the lightning to Benny Snell’s thunder, Kentucky’s offense gets going. Mark Wilson down for 50-75 yards rushing and a pivotal touchdown on the ground.
9. UT will test UK’s bounce-back ability
While this game will be competitive throughout, Tennessee will get a second half lead and will force Kentucky to deliver another gut-check late scoring drive. At the point when Kentucky’s offense faces off with Tennessee’s defense, the game is basically a question of who wants to win more …
10. 17 is the magic number
When I lived near Knoxville, I remember once hearing a Knoxville radio personality say to another broadcaster, “The last time UK beat UT in Knoxville, it was 17-12,” and the other said, “The score or the year?” Indeed, 17 feels like a magic number again this week.
Whichever team gets to 17 will win, and that’s the ultimate issue between the CFP-ranking hungry Wildcats and the bowl-eligibility hungry Vols. (And that year was 1984.)