Position-by-position edge: Tennessee at Kentucky
Taking a position-by-position look at Tennessee (3-4, 1-3) at Kentucky (4-3, 2-3), here’s who has the edge in Saturday’s showdown between the Volunteers and Wildcats:
QUARTERBACK — Tennessee: Josh Dobbs and Patrick Towles are dead even in many respects. Towles (250.9) and Dobbs (237.0) are comparable in total offense, while Dobbs is responsible for 14 TDs to Towles’ 12. However, what gives Dobbs the edge in this matchup is his versatility and the way he’s protected the ball. Dobbs has thrown 9 TDs and 2 INTs compared to Towles’ 8 TDs and 9 INTs. Among quarterbacks who average a minimum of 15 pass attempts per game played, Towles is one of only three QBs to throw more picks than touchdowns along with Vanderbilt’s Johnny McCrary (6 TDs, 10 INTs) and Auburn’s Sean White (0 TDs, 1 INT). Meanwhile, when he’s not in the pocket, Dobbs leads all SEC QBs with 55.3 rushing yards per game to go with 5 TDs.
RUNNING BACKS — Tennessee: The Vols have plenty of options when it comes to beating opponents on the ground. Tennessee has three players that rank among the top 17 in the league in rushing yards per game: Jalen Hurd (94.9), Dobbs (55.3) and Alvin Kamara (39.4). No SEC team has a trio that prolific, and in fact, only LSU and Georgia even have two players in the top 17 with Nick Chubb, of course, lost for the season. And last week, Tennessee joined Georgia as the only two teams this season to rush for 100 yards or more against the SEC’s best run defense in Alabama. Even if we leave Dobbs out of the equation since he’s not a running back, Hurd still averages slightly more rushing yards per game than Kentucky’s Stanley “Boom” Williams, while rushing for 8 TDs to Williams’ 3.
WIDE RECEIVERS, TIGHT END — Kentucky: The Wildcats have gotten way more production out of their wideouts this season. Tennessee’s leading pass-catcher averages a meager 31.1 receiving yards per game, and that’s tight end Ethan Wolf, and WR Josh Malone is right behind him at 30.3. Meanwhile, Kentucky’s trio of Garrett Johnson (73.1), Dorian Baker (56.9) and Jeff Badet (42.3) has been a bright spot for the team this season, with Garrett’s average ranking 5th in the SEC.
OFFENSIVE LINE — Tennessee: A lot of the Vols’ success in their aforementioned running game comes from their offensive line, which has also done a little better than the Wildcats in pass protection. Kentucky has allowed 20 sacks this season, and only Texas A&M has allowed more (21). Tennessee has allowed 16.
DEFENSIVE LINE — Tennessee: Just like at the offensive line, Tennessee has an edge but only has a slight one on the defensive front. Tennessee has gotten to the quarterback a couple more times with 14 sacks to Kentucky’s 12. Meanwhile, the Vols have defended the run only slightly better, ranking 10th in the SEC (162.9 yards allowed per game) while Kentucky ranks 11th (172.7). However, Kentucky has allowed 15 TDs on the ground, 2nd-most in the SEC.
LINEBACKERS — Even: Both teams’ linebacking corps are really anchored by their star players. For the Vols, it’s Jalen Reeves-Maybin. The junior has 10.5 tackles for loss this season, 4th-most in the SEC. The Wildcats don’t have any player, let alone a linebacker, that ranks in the top 50 in the SEC in tackles for loss. Reeves-Maybin also has 67 tackles on the year, slightly more than Kentucky leading tackler Josh Forrest’s 64. However, the Wildcats’ senior has shown his versatility in defending the pass with an interception, 5 pass breakups, 6 passes defended and 2 quarterback hurries to go with 3.5 sacks.
SECONDARY — Even: Again, finding an edge among these two less-than-impressive secondaries is difficult so it’s another wash. Kentucky and Tennessee rank 12th and 13, respectively, in the SEC this season in passing yards allowed per game. The Vols have allowed 7.3 yards per attempt to the Wildcats’ 7.4. UT’s unit only has one more pick than UK’s with LaDarrell McNeil and Todd Kelly Jr. each coming up with 2 for the Vols, and Chris Westry and J.D. Harmon each picking off a pair for the Wildcats.