UK opponent preview: Tennessee

jclay@herald-leader.comSeptember 4, 2012 

  • Tennessee Volunteers' schedule

    Aug. 31 vs. N.C. State (W, 35-21)

    Sept. 8 Georgia State

    Sept. 15 Florida

    Sept. 22 Akron

    Sept. 29 at Georgia

    Oct. 13 at Mississippi State

    Oct. 20 Alabama

    Oct. 27 at South Carolina

    Nov. 3 Troy

    Nov. 10 Missouri

    Nov. 17 at Vanderbilt

    Nov. 24 Kentucky

This is the final story in our series previewing Kentucky's opponents — we're skipping FCS team Samford, UK's opponent on Nov. 17 — looking at Tennessee.

Date: Nov. 24 in Knoxville.

Coach: Derek Dooley entered the year 11-14 in two seasons as the Tennessee coach, and if he can't do any better in year three he isn't likely to get a fourth. The son of the legendary Vince Dooley is 29-34 as a college coach overall. His Vols were 5-7 a year ago with a 1-7 mark in the conference. Tennessee got off to an encouraging start with a season-opening win over North Carolina State on Friday night.

Offense: Nine starters return from a year ago — it would have been 10 but wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers was banished to Tennessee Tech after repeatedly failing drug tests. Quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter return, but the Vols must do something about a rushing attack that ranked 116th in the nation a year ago.

Defense: Eight starters return for the Tennessee defense, now coordinated by Sal Sunseri, a longtime assistant who has never been a coordinator at an FBS school. Justin Wilcox, the former coordinator, jumped ship to Washington. Linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt are expected to be UT's leaders on that side of the ball.

Overall: A healthy Bray would go a long way in helping Dooley's job status, but the loss of Rogers is a huge blow. In the opener, junior-college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson stepped up in a big way with two TDs. Tennessee scored less than 10 points in five of its last seven games last season, so Friday's 35-point output was a good start. That has to continue in a big way for the Vols to make it back to a bowl game.

Series: We all know what happened a year ago when a wide receiver-turned-quarterback named Matt Roark helped the Cats beat Tennessee for the first time since 1984. That's also the last time Kentucky won in Knoxville.

Schedule: The Vols' key stretch will be Sept. 15 to Oct. 13. Florida comes to Knoxville on the 15th. Tennessee travels to Georgia on the 29th, then gets a week off before traveling to Mississippi State. If the Vols could win two of those three, Dooley might have a chance at another year.

Trend: The Vols are 19-20 since forcing Phil Fulmer out after the 2008 season. They were 24-15 in Fulmer's final three seasons.

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