This week’s college football schedule brings us an SEC border war between two teams that are growing desperate for wins as the Kentucky Wildcats square off against the Tennessee Volunteers. Game time is at 7:30 EST on Saturday, November 9 at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Fans can watch all of the action on the SEC Network.
After Tennessee opened as a 1-point favorite on the road, this game is now a straight-up PK. The over/under for the game is set at 42 points. Be sure to check out all of this week’s college football odds.
After enduring a three-game losing streak earlier in the season, Kentucky has bounced back with two wins in their last three games, escaping with a close win against Arkansas and dominating Missouri 29-7 two weeks ago. Those wins have Kentucky at 4-4 heading down the stretch. It would be a huge setback for Mark Stoops and Kentucky to miss out on a bowl game one year after winning 10 games. That means the pressure is on the Wildcats to grab at least two wins in their final four games. Fortunately, Kentucky has a game lined up against an FCS opponent late in the year, meaning a win against Tennessee this week would all but secure bowl eligibility for the Wildcats.
As for the Vols, they’ve been able to turn things around after a 1-4 start. Tennessee has won three of their last four games, losing only to Alabama during that stretch. The caveat is that all four of their wins this season have come at home and the Volunteers will play two of their last three games on the road. At 4-5, Tennessee needs two wins in three games to become bowl eligible. After traveling to Kentucky, the Vols have a bye week before ending the season at Missouri and home against in-state rival Vanderbilt. Those will both be must-win games if Tennessee can’t steal a win on the road Saturday night.
Of course, the Volunteers have dominated this rivalry, especially over the past three decades. Kentucky has just two wins over Tennessee since 1984. Fortunately for the Wildcats, both of those wins have come this decade with the most recent one coming two years ago, the last time they hosted the Vols.
Both of these teams deserve a lot of credit for getting their seasons turned around and I’m not surprised to see this game listed as a straight-up PK. Rather than merely flipping a coin, I’m going to lean toward Tennessee. All of the history in this rivalry points toward the Volunteers winning. Plus, Tennessee is the more desperate team, so I think they’ll find a way to get the win.
Among the many things working in Tennessee’s favor during their recent wins is the play of their front-7. The Vols have done a great job of controlling the running game of opposing teams in recent weeks. Stopping the run was a catalyst in the win over South Carolina and a big reason why they beat Mississippi State, even when the Bulldogs used a mobile quarterback. Tennessee was even able to hold Alabama over 20 yards below their rushing average and keep them at a reasonable four yards per carry.
If the Vols can continue to stand up against the run, they’ll be in a great position to beat Kentucky. The Wildcats ran wild in their win against Missouri behind wide receiver turned quarterback Lynn Bowden. It was a similar story when they beat Arkansas, as Bowden ran for nearly 200 of Kentucky’s 330 rushing yards while the Wildcats had less than 100 yards passing.
To be fair, slowing down the Kentucky rushing attack won’t be easy. Bowden is a freakish athlete who’s averaging eight yards per carry while starting running back Asim Rose isn’t a bad option either. However, if the Cats can’t win the game on the ground, they don’t have much of a Plan B. Bowden has completed just 40% of his passes when asked to throw. Sawyer Smith is also an option if Kentucky needs a more traditional quarterback. But he’s been atrocious in limited action, completing less than 47% of his passes with more interceptions than touchdown passes.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee is staying throwing the Wildcats a curveball by having three quarterbacks who could see action. Freshman Brian Maurer became the preferred starter before suffering a pair of concussions. He appears ready to return this week, although Jarrett Guarantano is likely to play too, even if he comes off the bench. Guarantano has had his ups and downs with the Volts, but he’s played a key role in all three of their recent wins. The Wildcats will also have to prepare for J.T. Shrout after he saw action last week against UAB.
Between an unpredictable offense and a much-improved run defense, I think the Volunteers have a slight edge in this game. I expect the Kentucky defense to play well, especially at home, which should make this an ugly, low-scoring game. But I like the Vols to contain Bowden and the Kentucky rushing attack, giving all three UT quarterbacks time to put some good drives together. In the end, I think Tennessee escapes with a close win.