UK football hopes to take advantage of Volunteers


Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Josh Allen blocks Tennessee Volunteers running back Carlin Fils-aime during the game against Tennessee at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 29-26 on Saturday, October 28, 2017.

Jake Maynard

Last week was a rough one for the 7-2 Wildcats. Kentucky suffered a brutal 34-17 loss against Georgia but still has the chance to finish with a historic 10-2 season. This weekend’s game against Tennessee is the first step for the Cats to reach one of the coveted New Year’s Six bowls.

Kentucky will enter the game in Neyland Stadium with a 66.5 percent chance of a win on Saturday, per ESPN’s FPI. A win for UK would be the Wildcats’ first win in Neyland Stadium since 1984. It would also be Kentucky’s first back-to-back wins against Tennessee since 1977.

Saturday is going to be a very physical game due to both programs preaching an emphasis on toughness and defense. Bad blood can also be expected as last year’s matchup between UK and Tennessee featured a fight that saw four ejections: Tennessee’s Daniel Bituli and Rashaan Gaulden and Kentucky’s Davonte Robinson and Tavin Richardson. UK won the game 29-26 behind Benny Snell Jr.’s 180 yards and three touchdowns.

If Tennessee is going to upset Kentucky, it will be through its defense. Bituli, a junior linebacker, is coming off a 13-tackle game against Charlotte. After his ejection last year, Bituli is certainly looking to continue his hot streak.

Senior defensive tackle Alexis Johnson will be key for the Vols. His two biggest games both came against top 25 teams: Johnson recorded seven tackles against Georgia and six against Auburn. It’s more than fair to say that Johnson steps up for the big moments and a chance to beat the No. 12 Wildcats is one of those moments.

Kentucky’s defense won’t allow for sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to throw the ball often, but Tennessee’s running game has the potential to explode. The Volunteers feature two star running backs in Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler. Jordan’s biggest game came against the No. 9 West Virginia Mountaineers when he rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown. Chandler is a versatile player that can catch as well as he can run the ball. Chandler had a receiving touchdown in three straight games against Georgia, Auburn and Alabama.

Josh Allen is in position to have a tremendous game against a questionable Volunteer offensive line that has allowed 14 sacks on the year. Last week, Charlotte sacked quarterback Jarrett Guarantano twice and for a combined loss of 24 yards. Allen is one of the best players in the nation with 10 sacks this year. Against a team that has only allowed one sack twice this year, he’ll hope to have a field day.

Kickoff is at 3:30 on Saturday. The game will be televised by SEC Network.