The Kentucky Wildcats traveled to Knoxville Saturday afternoon to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. The Wildcats were upset-minded prior to kickoff. It was a noon game, the Vols have been inconsistent, the ‘Cats are 6-3 against the spread this season, and this is the best Kentucky team since 2009. The Vols were having none of it though, and aside from a slow first quarter start, Tennessee was in firm control throughout.
What we learned
Tennessee’s offense was explosive. The Vols had 589 total yards and averaged 9.4 yards per carry, but perhaps the most telling stat is Tennessee only faced a total of five third downs the entire game. Joshua Dobbs was 11-for-17 for 223 yards and three touchdowns. He also would run 14 times for 147 yards, while Alvin Kamara would add 10 carries for 128 yards. They destroyed Kentucky’s defense on any possession in which penalties didn’t put them behind the chains.
Kentucky’s rushing attack is no joke. The ‘Cats are improved but remain a low ceiling team. The defense can hold its own against the poorer offenses, and the passing game can do the same against mediocre secondaries, but it’s the rushing attack that has UK on the cusp of bowl eligibility. Saturday, Kentucky ran the ball for 443 yards for an average of 8.1 yards per carry despite a handful of tackles for loss and sacks negating that yardage. Kentucky’s backfield is deep with three running backs scoring touchdowns and arguably its best, Benny Snell Jr., wasn’t one of them. Lest one think UK’s yardage came in second half garbage time, UK had 194 yards rushing at the end of the first half when the score was 21-13.
Tennessee’s defense buckled up in the red zone. Tennessee’s defense allowed 635 total yards today, but forced UK to kick field goals when the game was still competitive. This factor alone prevented the game from turning into a Big 12-style shoot-out that could have seen UK manage a big road upset. By the end of the third quarter, UK had five trips into Tennessee’s red zone, but had only walked away with 16 points. The way Tennessee’s offense was operating Saturday, there’s no way field goals were going to be enough.
With the win, Tennessee is now two wins away against Missouri and Vanderbilt from winning the SEC East. The good news for the Volunteers is they won’t face an offense as good as UK’s going forward. Their odds to win the East appear strong after a slightly turbulent season.