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Kentucky Football

Week Eleven Adversary -- Tennessee Volunteers

November 7, 2019
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Kentucky is entering week eleven of the season off of their second bye week. Kentucky is sitting right at .500 with four games left, as Tennessee has to hunker down, as they sit at 4-5 with three conference games remaining, two being on the road. It will be a rivalry game, expect a high-energy, close football game. Both teams are, I wouldn’t say desperate, but a win would make the remainder of the season look a whole lot better for both.

Tennessee stole one from Kentucky in Knoxville a season ago, right after losing the battle for the SEC East at home, the Wildcats were a no-show the week after. That is still weighing heavily on some of the players that played in that last season, they had a disappointing performance, to say the least. Now, the Volunteers will have to travel on the road to face a sort of rejuvenated Kentucky team. The Wildcats have looked like a different team after the bye week with Lynn Bowden at quarterback.

Kentucky opened up around a 4-point favorite, but that line has moved and swayed to Tennessee’s favor throughout the week. 

Kentucky Defense vs Tennessee Offense

This will be an interesting matchup, based on the sole fact that Kentucky could see four different guys taking the snap for the Vols. They have played their starter from last season, Jarrett Guarantano, as well as two Freshmen, Brian Maurer and JT Shrout, and then they are also doing something similar with Wide Receiver Jauan Jennings, lining him up in the Wildcat formation. Jennings was a former high school quarterback as well, and they have used his arm before this season, and they could try it again against the Wildcats. Jennings is their best playmaker, they will line him up outside, in the slot, or taking the direct snap.

Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney is an SEC veteran, with previous stints at Georgia and Arkansas. He offers multiple looks to a defense mainly in single back and spread formations. This offense lacks continuity at the most important position in football, and this Kentucky defense has seen multiple quarterbacks this season. This offense is at its best when number 15 has the football, their passing game thrives over the middle on slant routes, dig routes, and crossing patterns. 

Although they have lacked consistency at the quarterback position, it is still their strength as opposed to their ground game, which I believe is the greatest advantage Kentucky has. Senior Captain Kash Daniel will be back for this one, and that depth is critical. However, the combination of Square and Oats in the middle looked awfully good against Missouri, especially on predictable passing downs. Kentucky’s biggest deficit as a defense is against the run, but they are coming off of their best performance in that area of the season against Missouri. 

Jordan Wright and Josh Paschal were both a little banged up against the Tigers, but everyone should be back to full strength after the bye. The edge will be a critical matchup in this game. Tennessee has could be without two tackles in this game, and they play all four. The Vols start two freshmen on the edges, Wanya Morris on the left and Darnell Wright on the right. Behind them are two Juniors, Jahmir johnson, and Marcus Tatum; Johnson and Wright could be out against Kentucky. That depth showed against UAB, they had to move their backup right tackle, Tatum, to the left side because the Freshman was struggling, which also got their third-string right guard, K’Rojhn Calbert, to get some snaps at right tackle. 

Kentucky could dial-up blitzes off of the edge and be successful, with Boogie Watson, Josh Paschal, and Jordan Wright. They have to set the edge against the run as well, Ty Chandler is the Vols best back, but he has been inconsistent over the course of the season. Tennessee is the only team in the SEC that averages below four yards per rush on the season, they have the fewest amount of 10+ yard runs, and are tied with Vanderbilt for the fewest rushing touchdowns (7). Tennessee has not been able to get going on outside explosive runs, and that is due to the lack of experience on the outside, and those outside runs have been a work-in-progress for Kentucky’s defense, but they have improved over the last few weeks. 

Tennessee allows on average, two sacks per game, and they have allowed a total of 18 on the season. Kentucky’s defensive line has to come to play, they have great depth and have continued to play well. Tennessee lacks quantity in playmakers, Chandler has a great burst but is inconsistent, Jennings and Marquez Callaway account for over 1,000-yards combined, as well as 11-of-14 receiving touchdowns. This Kentucky secondary is tied with three other teams for the fewest passing touchdowns in the nation with four, and they have only allowed one since the first quarter against Florida (week three), and that one was a screen pass against Missouri. 

They have dealt with plenty of dangerous wideouts this season. However, Jennings runs with scary physicality, he plays big with strong arms and using his catch radius to his advantage, and that could pose difficulties. Tennessee will have to get the running game going, however, if they want to win this game, and this is a team that has ran for over four yards per attempt in three games with season (BYU, Chattanooga, Miss St), and they have just one game over 200 yards rushing this season. Kentucky will probably use a lot of cover two-man looks in this game and trust their players to win their one-on-ones with safety help over top, corners will play man with a cushion as well as possible press-man coverage. 

Kentucky Offense vs Tennessee Defense

Kentucky’s offense has looked light-years more dynamic with Lynn Bowden as the quarterback. The Wildcats have gotten back to what has been their bread-and-butter under Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran. Gran’s offense averages 97 more yards per game with Bowden at quarterback. This is a Kentucky team that is much different at home, as they have scored over 20 points every home game this season and have really just had one bad quarter... 

Since Bowden became QB1, Kentucky has averaged 262 rushing yards per game and just 37 less total rushing yards in just three games compared to the first five of the season. With this move, the offense has consistently stayed ahead of the chains and put themselves in a manageable third-down situation, they have control of the tempo of the game and field position with Max Duffy, the best punter in the nation. This is the biggest mismatch of the game, in my opinion, and why I ultimately think Kentucky will win. Bowden has revamped the running game and Kentucky will be able to find holes in the running game. 

Here is a chart that shows Kentucky’s rushing performance in these last three games compared to the opponent's average numbers on the season. 

  UK rushing yds avg rush/ypg allowed
vs Arkansas 330 221
at Georgia 160 78
vs Missouri 297 137

Kentucky is on average rushing 117 more rushing yards than their opponents average with Bowden. In the one clear weather game, he completed 7-of-11 passes. That passing threat will have to improve going forward and we will see on Saturday, but Bowden has thrown some nice passes and has made smart throws for the most part. The offensive line will have to win their battles against a physical Tennessee defense.

They are led by three seniors, Linebacker Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli, as well as safety Nigel Warrior. These are three talented seniors, Taylor is the most disruptive player on that side of the football. He leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks, he will be John Schlarman’s main priority for his group and they must contain him. If they can limit his impact, Kentucky will win this football game. 

This Volunteer defense loves to play man-to-man defense and pressman, they can also disguise those coverages into cover two, three, and four-zone looks. They will face arguably their biggest challenge on the ground this season trying to contain Bowden. However, this is a team coming off of their best to games against the run. They have allowed less than 100 total yards the last two games and just two touchdowns, with that, said, Rico Dowdle was out for South Carolina, he is their lead back. 

Tennessee’s most impressive feat this season was holding arguably the best running back in the SEC, Kylin Hill, to just 13 yards on 11 carries. But they did let Mississippi State quarterback get 62 yards on 13 carries. Numbers show that this matchup will be the defining part of this football game, especially if Kentucky controls the tempo. Here are Tennessee’s numbers against the run this season in wins and in losses.

In Wins: 34 rushes per game, 413 yards (3ypc), 2 touchdowns, 103 yards allowed on avg

In Losses: 39 rushes per game, 826 yards (4ypc), 12 touchdowns, 165 yards allowed on avg

Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw had an extra week to add new wrinkles and to prepare for this defense. It will be exciting to watch Bowden on Saturday, he will be the best player on the field.

Impact Vols

Jauan Jennings, Athlete

Jennings is turning into the Vols’ Lynn Bowden, just not quite to that degree yet. But he is their difference-maker offensively, his physicality can give many secondaries trouble, and we will see how he fares against the Wildcats. They will line him up everywhere, and he will be Brad White’s main priority for his defense. White compared the physicality he plays with to Terrell Owens on Wednesday, high praise. 

Ty Chandler, Running Back

Chandler has to be consistent this week. Kentucky will likely run the football 40+ times, and they can not be outgained on the ground too largely or the game can slip away from them. Chandler has a great burst and runs with power for his size, they have to get him going, especially if they plan to run multiple quarterbacks, a number that could be three or four. 

Darrell Taylor, Outside Linebacker

Taylor is their biggest disruptor off the edge. He leads the team in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (7), along with three quarterback hurries. He is a good athlete and a veteran that will need to show up big on the road. 

Impact Cats

Lynn Bowden, Athlete

Bowden is the difference-maker, he has revamped the entire offense with his elite-level playmaking ability. He is showing every week why he is the most versatile player in the nation. Bowden has unbelievable ability to stop-and-go, it is almost as if he is playing in slow-motion. He will be the reason Kentucky wins this game if they do.

Yusuf Corker, Safety

Corker has been a little under-appreciated this season. Corker has played well and has great range on the back end and is a solid tackler. He will likely help the corners over top with a guy like Jauan Jennings or Marquez Callaway, his physicality is the best fit on the back end to match Jennings.

Deandre Square, Linebacker

Square has played unbelievable this season. His versatility will be massive in those routes across the middle that Chaney likes to run with those physical wideouts. Square is the surest-tackler on the Wildcats defense, and he continues to get better every week.

One Strength

Tennessee

  • Unpredictability 

Tennessee has four different guys that have taken a direct snap. It is unclear who their starter is and that could hurt Kentucky’s defense. That unpredictability is tough to defend, it is tough to defend two quarterbacks, nonetheless three. This will be Tennessee’s biggest advantage, as both teams have had their struggles defensively this season.

Kentucky

  • Ground Game

I have preached it all throughout this article. These numbers don’t lie and the film doesn’t either. Bowden has a tremendous advantage on the ground with Bowden, all he needs to do is throw the football a little more, and the weather will not prevent him from doing that this weekend. But the advantage on the ground heavily sways in Kentucky’s favor. 

One Weakness

Tennessee

  • On the Road

This is a Tennessee team that has played just two road games in their first nine games. It is hard to win on the road no matter who you are, in this league. Between Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Missouri, that is an atrocious record of 1-14 on the road, and the one win was South Carolina in Athens... Home field advantage matters.

Kentucky

  • Third Down

The Wildcats have struggled on the most important down in football throughout the season. They have had their ups and downs, but that is an area that can really hurt a football team. Kentucky must stay in front of the chains on offense and put Tennessee in long third downs defensively. This is where Kentucky has to win, on third and fourth downs.

B3 Keys to the Game

Ground Game
– The Edge
– Tempo/Field Position Control

If you have read to this point you know what I think the difference is on Saturday. It is no coincidence Kentucky is 3-0 when rushing above 200+ yards on the ground and 0-3 when they have allowed 200+ yards on the ground. This is Kentucky’s biggest mismatch and advantage on Saturday.

Defensively, the edge will be huge. Kentucky must win the battle on the edges against an inexperienced group of tackles that could be without two guys in the rotation. They also have to set the edge and slow down the outside running game.

Last but not least, is who will control this football game? Kentucky has done a fantastic job with Bowden at making teams play their style of football. That has come through Bowden and Duffy, as well as the defense improving. It will be hard for the Cats to lose if they control the field position and tempo as they did against Missouri.

Prediction

This is going to be a battle for four quarters of football. It is a big rivalry game and both teams need a win. Tennessee has an impressive history against Kentucky, but every season is a new season. On paper, which clearly doesn’t always matter, the Wildcats matchup so well on the ground. Kentucky was the better team last season, and flat-out did not come to play, but home-field advantage matters just as much as the advantage on the ground; I believe the Cats win.

Kentucky 27 Tennessee 17

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Week Eleven Adversary -- Tennessee Volunteers

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