Column: ‘Big blue wall’ needs to hold strong if Kentucky is to beat Tennessee


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops coaches his team from the sideline during the No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Ole Miss football game on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Vaught Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss won 22-19. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Drew Johnson, Reporter

Kentucky football saved its season last weekend with a much-needed win over then No. 16 Mississippi State.

A loss would’ve seen Kentucky fall out of the top 25 and have to fight for bowl contention, but the win sees Kentucky one win away from a bowl and remain within the top 25.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, the road does not get any easier for the Wildcats as they are faced with a trip to Neyland Stadium to face No. 3 following a bye week.

Not only does UK face a fierce rival in an intense environment, but it’s put up against a Volunteers squad that just upset Alabama in that same stadium, winning 52-49 in arguably one of the best regular season college football games in recent years.

The game showcased the main way in which Tennessee has been able to succeed so far this season: Hendon Hooker, who led an offense that’s so overwhelming that defense almost doesn’t matter because the Vols are able to score on almost every possession.

The Volunteers are number one in the country in total offense, averaging 7.35 yards per play and 551 yards per game, leaving many fans worried about whether or not Kentucky can keep up with that level of production.

Luckily for the Wildcats though, Kentucky ranks 14th in total defense, allowing only 12 touchdowns so far this season.

This provides some hope that a fired-up Kentucky squad may be able to give itself a chance to slow down Tennessee, which leaves the rest of the pressure to the offense.

Offensively, Kentucky has yet to truly reach their full potential and, unlike in previous years, the offensive line has been a big reason for that.

The unit ranks 125th out of 131 FBS programs in sacks allowed, as well as 109th in tackles for loss allowed.

This bad start for the ‘big blue wall’ has many fans wondering if offensive line coach Zach Yenser is even fit for the job, but it’s important to remember that Kentucky graduated a lot of key players on that front line last year including Darian Kinnard, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and Luke Fortner, who was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It’s also important to keep in mind that Yenser has already coached under current offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, meaning he is likely more than qualified to coach an offensive line within this system.

That said, it’s easy to point out why the big blue wall is struggling, but it doesn’t change the facts.

The offensive line desperately needs to improve for Kentucky to deliver on such an important year for the program with likely first round NFL draft pick Will Levis leading the charge.

For Kentucky to win a big matchup in Neyland it is going to have to score an abundance of points, which means giving Levis adequate time to throw the ball deep, and not going backwards with unnecessary penalties or sacks.

It’s safe to say that the outcome of the game is going to be based on protection from the big blue wall as Levis’ high-flying gunslinger style requires time in the pocket to develop a big play. Time in the pocket will also help freshman receiving stars Dane Key and Barion Brown contribute to the game better with their speed and route running.

The Wildcats face the Volunteers at 7 p.m. EST on Saturday, Oct. 29, in what is one of the most important games of the year in the eyes of Big Blue Nation.