Fearless Prediction: Tennessee vs. Kentucky
The Tennessee/Kentucky rivalry has almost always been a 1-sided affair, with the Vols holding an 80-25-9 advantage. General Robert Neyland never lost to Kentucky in 22 contests. Bear Bryant is best known for winning 6 national titles at Alabama, but he coached the Wildcats to only 1 victory in 8 tries against the Vols. Phillip Fulmer was a perfect 16-0 against UK. In most recent times, the Vols have beaten the Wildcats in 32 of the past 34 meetings. Those 2 Tennessee losses came in 2011 and 2017 and led to the firings of Derek Dooley in 2012 and Butch Jones only a few weeks after a 29-26 defeat.
That’s what a loss to UK means at UT.
By all accounts, 2018 was one of the best seasons in Kentucky football history. The Wildcats won 10 games, finished the season ranked 12 in the AP poll, beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl … and they still got throttled in Knoxville, losing 24-7 to a mediocre 5-7 Tennessee team.
You simply do not lose to Kentucky if you are Tennessee’s football coach … if you want to remain Tennessee’s football coach.
Tennessee (4-5) is coming off a convincing 30-7 victory over UAB. Defensively the Vols picked up 3 sacks and 4 turnovers. Sophomore defensive back Bryce Thompson collected 3 interceptions. If not for a garbage time touchdown scored by the Blazers late in the 4th quarter, the Vols would have had a shutout and a streak of 6 consecutive quarters in which they had not been scored upon. There aren’t many issues with this team on defense.
Offensively? Well, the quarterback situation remains tenuous at best. Redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout has a cannon but not the confidence of his coaches. Shrout was pulled from the UAB game after the opening series. He returned when the outcome was no longer in doubt. Redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano played despite having a broken left hand and continued his perplexing career with an underwhelming performance. True freshman Brian Maurer dressed and was given the OK to play but never saw the field. You may see all 3 Saturday in Lexington.
The quarterback situation for Kentucky (4-4) also is not ideal … and it brings back awful memories for Vols fans.
In 2011, converted wide receiver Matt Roark was the quarterback for UK against Tennessee. He hadn’t played QB since high school but was pressed into action due to injuries. He completed 4 pass for a whopping 15 yards, but ran for 124 yards and led the Wildcats to a 10-7 upset. It was Kentucky’s 1st win over Tennessee in 26 years. Wildcats fans rushed the field like they just won the SEC championship. The result kept the Vols out of a bowl game. It was one of the most embarrassing losses in Tennessee history.
This season Lynn Bowden, another converted wide receiver, has been Kentucky’s best quarterback following the season-ending knee injury to starter Terry Wilson in September. Bowden doesn’t throw the ball very much, but has the mobility to keep the chains moving. He rushed for over 200 yards in Kentucky’s win over Arkansas 2 weeks ago.
If looking for a difference-maker, look no further than Vols kicker Brent Cimaglia. He’s converted 90% of his field-goal attempts this season, missing only twice. Last week he made all 3, including a 53-yard blast on a cold Knoxville evening. Anyone who has ever seen a November night game in Lexington knows that it feels like one of the coldest places on Earth, but if last weekend was any indication, kicking a hard football shouldn’t be a problem for Cimaglia. When needed, he has been a reliable safety value for Pruitt.
Kentucky has the advantage of coming off a bye week. On the flip side, this will be Tennessee’s 6th consecutive game. The Vols have some tired and beat up players who could use a few days off. But they have the added motivation of knowing that a bowl game is within reach, something that didn’t seem at all possible a month ago when Tennessee was sitting at 1-4.
This senior class, led by receiver Jauan Jennings and linebacker Darrell Taylor, deserves 1 more game in their college careers. A win Saturday night would help them get there.
Fearless Prediction time …
Tennessee 17, Kentucky 13.