Kentucky coach Mark Stoops did not mince words when describing the Wildcats’ performance in last week’s blowout loss at Mississippi State, saying his team has to “play a heck of a lot better” when it hosts struggling Tennessee on Saturday. The Wildcats take a second shot at their sixth victory – which would make Kentucky bowl eligible – after their vaunted run defense was shredded for 282 yards in last week’s 45-7 rout.
“We didn’t play good in any aspect of the game,” Stoops told reporters Monday, and the Wildcats will need to rebound after their offense crossed midfield just three times against the Bulldogs while quarterback Stephen Johnson failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in four games. While Kentucky encountered a one-week hiccup, the Volunteers have endured a miserable autumn and arrive in Lexington seeking their first conference victory while speculation about the future of coach Butch Jones continues swirling. Tennessee lost 45-7 at top-ranked Alabama last week, and the Volunteers have scored just 16 points in their past three games. “It has been the same thing for the last couple of weeks,” Tennessee running back John Kelly told reporters Monday. “We have to make sure we execute.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network. LINE: Kentucky -4
ABOUT TENNESSEE (3-4, 0-4 SEC): Kelly, who leads the SEC with 870 all-purpose yards, has averaged just 3.75 yards per carry the past three games while the offensive line has struggled. Freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano passed for 44 yards while being sacked four times in his second career start last week, and Tennessee has not scored an offensive touchdown in 14 consecutive quarters. Linebacker Quart’e Sapp recorded a career-best 11 tackles last week.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (5-2, 2-2): Despite last week’s rough showing, the Wildcats rank third in the SEC and 26th nationally in rushing defense (123.6 yards per game). Defensive end Josh Allen has 6 ½ sacks – second in the league – leading a defense that has allowed 24.7 points per game, the Wildcats’ best showing since 2011. Running back Benny Snell Jr. averages 77.3 rushing yards per game with three 100-plus yard games, but was held to 18 yards on only seven carries a week ago.
1. Tennessee ranks second in the SEC and ninth nationally in kick return average (26.5 yards).
2. Kentucky K Austin MacGinnis is the school’s career points leader (315) and is tied for third in the SEC this season with 13 field goals.
3. The Volunteers have won 31 of the past 32 meetings with the Wildcats since 1985, the lone Kentucky victory in that stretch coming in 2011.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 27, Tennessee 14