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Kentucky Football

Stoops vs. Pruitt; A Renewed Kentucky-Tennessee Rivalry

November 8, 2018

A rivalry which has failed to gain much of any national attention is that of the rivalry of Kentucky and Tennessee football. Tennessee's commanding  79-25-9 record in the series probably is the leading cause of the lack of attention. To the players, the coaches, and especially the fans, this rivalry game has always meant a little something extra. Although it has been lopsided historically, the game is circled on the calendar every year.

Both programs have gone through changes. Although Tennessee has historically been better than Kentucky, they are the underdogs in the rivalry this season. A large part of that is the turnaround by Mark Stoops and company, which is something Jeremy Pruitt and his staff at Tennessee could model moving forward. Regardless of what history says, could this rivalry turn into a competitive must-watch under the new coaches? 

Traditional Rivalry

Traditionally, both football teams have been offensive-minded programs. When you think of Tennessee football, you think of Peyton Manning. When you think of Kentucky football, you think of Tim Couch.

Both fan-bases and cultures were built by offensive minds. Guys like Bob Neyland, Johnny Majors, and Phillip Fulmer built the Tennessee football program. Some recent offensive-minded coaches have driven the program into the ground; Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, and Butch Jones. 

Kentucky has followed a similar path. Bear Bryant initially started to build up Kentucky football, until he left for Alabama. It was guys like Fran Curci, Hal Mumme, Rich Brooks, and Joker Phillips that built Kentucky football into an offensive-minded, air raid, gimmicky football team. 

With that said, the rivalry has never consistently been competitive. The Vols went on a 26-year win streak, that was ended in 2011. For years, Kentucky seemed to not be able to match-up with the Vols.

A new era is upon us. Both teams have made the change. Both teams went out and got a hard-nosed, no-nonsense football coach.

Kentucky, of course, got the defensive-minded Mark Stoops in 2013, and he has now taken the program of Kentucky football to new heights. A physical team, that just lines up and punches you in the mouth. An elite defense has taken Kentucky to a top 25 ranking in both the AP and Coaches Poll for seven straight weeks.

Jeremy Pruitt, former Florida State, and Alabama defensive coordinator is in his first year as the Vols head coach. Pruitt is having to do similarly what Stoops did at Kentucky. He has to rebuild the mess left by Butch Jones like Stoops had to do with Joker Phillips. What took Stoops six years to do, should take Pruitt about three or four years to do, solely on the history of the program.

One thing you see from both football teams, they fight for their coach. Both Stoops and Pruitt seem to watch the game of football the same and want their teams to play the same way. The traditional Kentucky versus Tennessee football rivalry is not what it used to be anymore. Kentucky no longer comes into the rivalry with a talent or a coaching gap.

We are at the start of a renewed rivalry.

Renewed Rivalry

This Saturday, Stoops, and Pruitt will go head-to-head for the first time, but it will be the 114th meeting between the blue and orange. Stoops has the edge in this one, as he has established the program to what he wanted it to be when he got the job. Pruitt, on the other hand, is just getting started on the rebuilding process.

However, when you look at their teams this year, they are similar. Tennessee football, this season, is a poor man's Kentucky.

Both teams rely heavily on their defense to win them the football game. On the offensive side of the football, both teams have struggled to find the end zone consistently. Both teams are also led by a dual-threat quarterback with a fair share of ups and downs. This game on Saturday will be a physical, defensive battle. 

Defense in physicality will likely be the common theme of this rivalry moving forward, so long as Stoops and Pruitt at the helm. Both coaches want their defense to be the strong-point of the football team. They want to win games by shutting down the opponent's offense. This is one thing that will not change.

Pruitt has put his team in position to compete and have a chance to win several games this year they really should not have had a chance in. The fight in the team is one thing that hasn't been questioned. The Vols look to be headed in the right direction, much like Kentucky was over the past few seasons.

At this point in time, Kentucky football has a program that is more attractive than Vanderbilt, Missouri, South Carolina, and maybe even Tennessee. Kentucky has replaced South Carolina and Missouri in the upper echelon of the SEC East.

Although it's not the norm, Saturday will likely tell the story of the state of each football program. Two traditionally offensive-minded football programs in a lopsided rivalry are about change the narrative. A defensive-minded slugfest could revamp this rivalry and make it competitive every year.

The first match-up of this renewed rivalry is in Knoxville on Saturday. Get ready for a defensive football game, but also get ready for the start of a competitive, renewed rivalry.

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Stoops vs. Pruitt; A Renewed Kentucky-Tennessee Rivalry

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