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WHISKY OR BOURBON: Tennessee squares-off against (18)Kentucky

By: The All Vol Call in Show Staff


Graphic | John Dunn

The Tennessee Volunteers travel to Lexington to take on the 18th-ranked Wildcats on Saturday in what was formerly known as "The Battle for the Beer Barrel."

John Dunn (Founder/Managing Editor/Host):

I grew up on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, in Claiborne County Tennessee. I was raised on Tennessee sports, and have bled orange my entire life. This one means a lot to me.

I have a lot of respect for Kentucky, but at the same time, they're second on my list in terms of rivals, only trailing the Florida Gators. I have immense respect for Mark Stoops and the job he has done in Lexington. I have even said that I don't believe that the legendary Nick Saban could have done what Stoops has been able to accomplish with the Wildcats. After acquiring W. Robinson, J. Jones, and W. Levis from the transfer portal last season, I knew that the Wildcats were going to be a formidable team this year, and as it turns out, I was right.

After suffering a setback against the Mississippi State Bulldogs last week in Starkville, Kentucky will be even hungrier. Tennessee is coming off of a BYE week, in which they had some time to get some crucial players healthy, which will aide the Vols against the Cats.

Tennessee leads the all-time series by a substantial margin at 81-26-9. In my life time, Kentucky has defeated Tennessee three times (2011, 2017, 2019). In 2019, the Cats beat the Vols in Neyland Stadium for the first time since 1984.

Kentucky's recent success in the series is indicative of how well the Wildcats have improved since the acquisition of Stoops. Stoops' two wins in the series as a head coach are the most since Fran Cruci's Wildcats topped the Vols three times from 1976-1981.

After taking a substantial win in Knoxville in 2019, Kentucky now has the opportunity to win back-to-back games against Tennessee for the first time since 1976 and 1977.

Tennessee's offense is ranked 22nd in the country, compared to Mississippi State's offense, which ranks 46th, and the Bulldogs gave the Wildcats fits, outscoring them 31-17. Kentucky also seems to struggle with good quarterback play. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker ranks fourth in the nation, and first in the SEC in passing efficiency, with 1,578 yards, 17 passing touchdowns, and two interceptions. For comparison, Mississippi State's Will Rogers ranks 60th, and completed 36-of-39 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis is no slouch though. During his time with the Cats, Levis has led Kentucky to a 6-2 record, throwing for 1,476 yards, with 14 passing touchdowns with nine interceptions.

The real story for Kentucky is their defense. The Wildcats' defense is ranked 34th in the country, with the Vols bolstering the nation's 73rd ranked defense.

In my opinion, this game will go one of three ways; Kentucky will win by a slim margin, Tennessee will win by a slim margin, or the Vols will absolutely blow the doors off of Kentucky. Tennessee matches up extremely well against Kentucky, and the Wildcats seems to struggle with up-tempo, potent offenses, which the Vols happen to have.

Prediction: Tennessee - 37 | Kentucky - 20

Dallas Bowlin (Senior Staff Writer):

Historically, the Vols have dominated the Wildcats, leading the series with 81 wins to Kentucky’s 26. Kentucky ranks 7th in the SEC in terms of defense, so I do expect Tennessee to be able to move the ball and score some points. The Vols bolster the 2nd-ranked defense in the SEC, while in their last loss, the Wildcats faced Mississippi State, who statistically has the worst defense in the SEC and they were only able to muster up 17 points, with 7 of those coming from a special teams punt return. Kentucky may be able to turn the offense back on once they’re back inside of Kroger Field, but I’m going to say they struggle once again and the Tennessee series lead extends.

Prediction: Tennessee - 41 | Kentucky - 20

Joe Davis (Junior Staff Writer):

It's been ten years of trials and tribulations, ten years of this merry-go-round of despair, and ten years so bad that a book was literally written about it. What else did Tennessee do in those ten years? Beat Kentucky regularly. The Wildcats started off the season on fire, taking down Florida and LSU, but have cooled as much as the weather has recently. October wasn't kind to either of these squads, as they picked up one win each in the month.

Coming off a loss to pass-happy Mississippi State, and facing a healthier, fresher Tennessee team, this isn't a good matchup for the Cats. Look for Tennessee to keep a permanent clasp and on wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson, and make Kentucky beat them in other ways. Unfortunately for them, I don't think they can. The Vols and their fresh legs take this one late.

Prediction: Tennessee - 35 | Kentucky - 24

William Allen (Senior Staff Writer):

Kentucky and Tennessee are both on a two-game losing streak. The Wildcats (6-2, 4-2) won six straight games before falling to #1 Georgia and #17 Mississippi State. Mark Stoops lost two key defensive lineman in Marquan McCall and Octavious Oxendine to injury. The Wildcats will lean on defensive end Josh Paschal (11.5 tackles for loss), linebacker Jacquez Jones (team-high 64 tackles) and DeAndre Square (61 tackles, 8.5 for a loss).

Kentucky is undefeated at Kroger Field this season. Excellent play from running back Chris Rodriguez, quarterback Will Levis and wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson must happen for Kentucky to win. Tennessee’s last two losses were at #2 Alabama and to #16 Ole Miss in Neyland Stadium. The Vols (4-4, 2-3) third down defense is next-to-last in the conference, allowing opponents to convert 46 percent on their opportunities. Stopping Will Levis from scrambling to a first down will be a big factor.

This season, the Tennessee defense leads the nation with 8.8 tackles for loss per game, and the offense averages 37.4 (21st) points-per-game. The keys for Tennessee to win are: a healthy offense, and a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Wide receivers Velus Jones and Cedric Tillman combine for 61 catches, 900 yards and eight touchdowns. Quarterback Hendon Hooker is ranked in the top ten in national passer rating, and has accumulated 1,994 total yards from scrimmage. Expect Tennessee offensive lineman Cade Mays to return, along with running backs Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small.

Prediction: Tennessee - 35 | Kentucky - 34

Darrell Winstead (Junior Staff Writer):

Tennessee has not one, but three winning streaks in the series against Kentucky of ten wins or more, with an amazing stretch of 26 straight wins from 1985 to 2010. Despite the dominance by the Vols in this series, the Wildcats come into this game with confidence after winning two of the past four meetings.

Kentucky is ranked #18 in the country and currently sits 2nd in the SEC East, but after losing two straight games they need a win over Tennessee to hold that spot. Tennessee is also on a two-game slide and has the chance to grab that second spot in the SEC East. The last time that they finished that high was in 2007. This is not only a big rivalry game, but an opportunity for the Vols to continue their climb back to the top. This Saturday night Tennessee gets back on track and dominating the Wildcats once again.

With Hendon Hooker leading the charge, there is no reason that Tennessee can’t be the more explosive team and it will be those big explosive plays that allow the Vols to get the victory. Kentucky will keep it close early, but the pace and big plays will be too much for the Cats to overcome.

Prediction: Tennessee - 36 | Kentucky - 23

Zac Strickland (Senior Staff Writer):

Relative to expectations, Josh Heupel’s first season has been a success. The Vols have fared better than most expected in every SEC game to date except Florida. Yet so far, they still haven’t beaten any teams that are actually good, with narrow misses against Pitt and Ole Miss. Coming off a desperately needed bye week, the rejuvenated Volunteers have a chance to get their best of the year, on the road at #18 Kentucky. The Wildcats are no longer the pushover that many of us remember them being, and there is mutual dislike between the two schools that bridges across multiple sports. Following the JG debacle of 2020, the Cats are looking to win back-to-back games against Tennessee for the first time since 1977.

Offensively, Kentucky uses a heavy dose of the ground game, and most of their passing attack goes through human joystick WR Wandale Robinson. The Vols should focus most of their defensive attention on him and RB Chris Rodriguez, and dare other players to beat them. They have a solid offensive line, but QB Will Levis has shown he can be mistake prone, as he threw 3 INTs in last week’s loss to Mississippi State. If he once again commits multiple turnovers, Kentucky will be in trouble. Their defense is considered the strength of the team, but they have had an issue containing up-tempo offenses. Their front seven, led by LB Josh Paschal, is strong when at full health, however they are currently banged up. Their DB’s have proven to be suspect to say the least, and the Jones/Tillman/Payton receiver trio have got to be licking their chops this week. The improved health of Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small will bolster the run game as well.

I absolutely love this matchup for Tennessee. Kentucky has better depth than the Vols, but they’ve struggled to put away lesser talented teams this whole year, and have benefited from Florida and LSU self-destructing at the perfect time. The Cats rarely score more than the 20’s, are turnover prone, and have not stopped offenses similar to Josh Heupel’s. They are a good team, and the crowd will be rabidly hoping for a rare win against the Vols, but I don’t think they get their wish. Tennessee jumps out early and maintains the lead to continue its series mastery over Kentucky.

Prediction: Tennessee - 41 | Kentucky - 20


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