Fearless Prediction: Tennessee at Kentucky
Like the Tennessee Volunteers, the Fearless Prediction took a well deserved break last week. But it is time to get back to work. Let’s start things off with a history lesson.
The Kentucky game has been a death knell for the past 3 Tennessee coaches.
In 2011, the Vols lost at Kentucky 10-7. It snapped the Vols’ 26-game winning streak against Kentucky. Making matters worse, the Wildcats played a wide receiver named Matt Roark … at quarterback. Roark was a senior and hadn’t lined up at QB since high school.
The loss should have ended Derek Dooley’s time in Knoxville, but new athletics director Dave Hart didn’t want to make such a significant move that early in his tenure. The Vols never really recovered, and Dooley was finally fired near the end of the following season.
In 2017, the Vols lost at Kentucky 29-26, despite leading in nearly every significant statistical category. That defeat was one of the final nails in Butch Jones’ coffin. Jones was fired 2 weeks later.
In 2020, the Vols were blown out by Kentucky 34-7. Jarrett Guarantano tossed 2 pick-6s. Jeremy Pruitt’s squad was a mess for the rest of the season, and he was dismissed after a 3-7 campaign and a boatload of alleged NCAA violations.
Dooley, Jones and Pruitt were far enough in their coaching terms that the Kentucky loss was a sign that it simply wasn’t going to work with them in charge. We haven’t seen enough from Josh Heupel to know if he’ll inevitably succeed or collapse, so we shouldn’t make any rash judgments if they lose Saturday night in Lexington.
Despite falling at Georgia and Mississippi State, this Kentucky team is better than many of its predecessors. Quarterback Will Levis turns the football over too much, but still completes 66% of his passes. He has thrown for 1,476 yards and 14 touchdown passes. Chris Rodriguez Jr. is one of the best running backs in the league, with 775 rushing yards and 5 TDs. Wan’Dale Robinson is by far their top option in the passing game with 58 grabs.
Kentucky’s strength is on defense. That unit is ranked 34th in the nation. Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square make up a formidable pair in the middle of the defense, combining for 125 tackles. Defensive end Josh Paschal has 11.5 tackles for loss, 2nd-most in the SEC.
This is Mark Stoops’ 9th year in charge. He’ll lead the Wildcats to a bowl game with a 6th consecutive season, something that has never happened in program history.
The Cats are 6-2 and ranked in the top 20. Tennessee is 4-4 and outside the national rankings. Kentucky is at home. Even with all that info, UK is only a slight favorite. That’s because the offensive stats significantly favor the Vols. Tennessee is 21st in total offense while Kentucky is ranked 92nd. Tennessee is scoring over 37 points per game while Kentucky puts up 26.
This is a balanced and efficient offense. Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker has only been picked picked off twice while throwing for 1,578 yards and 17 touchdowns. Running back Tiyon Evans has been banged up yet is still averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Receivers Velus Jones, Jr. and Cedric Tillman have come on as of late, now combining for 61 catches for almost 900 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Defensively the Vols might not be as good statistically as Kentucky, but those numbers are somewhat misleading. Tennessee has had to play 3 of the top 10 offenses in college football (Ole Miss, Pittsburgh, Alabama). Kentucky won’t present that type of challenge.
Even when Tennessee has been flat out lousy, they’ve found a way to win the Kentucky game more often that not. The 2021 Vols aren’t a great team, but they play hard.
Tennessee hasn’t dropped 2 in a row to Kentucky since 1976-1977. A losing streak to Kentucky simply isn’t acceptable at UT. And it won’t happen this season. The Vols are rested and will be ready to go.
Fearless Prediction time …
Tennessee 38, Kentucky 27