How Kentucky and Tennessee match up — with a game prediction:
Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson had a quiet game against Georgia — 10-of-20 passing for 103 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. Mark Stoops said Monday that, because it’s so late in the season, UK might not pull the redshirt off true freshman Gunnar Hoak if Johnson were to get injured. Stoops said the Cats might go with walk-on and Cincinnati transfer Luke Wright. A dual threat, Tennessee senior Joshua Dobbs has been a Cat killer, going 3-0 in his prior starts vs. UK and accounting for 11 touchdowns (seven passing, four rushing). Dobbs can be error-prone through the air. He has thrown 11 interceptions this season.
Junior Boom Williams and true freshman Benny Snell give Kentucky one of the better one-two combinations in the country. The 5-foot-9, 196-pound Williams is fourth in the SEC in rushing (898 yards) and needs 380 yards to pass Derrick Locke for sixth on UK’s all-time rushing list. The 5-11, 220-pound Snell is seventh in the SEC (775) and has gone over 100 yards in three straight SEC games. Tennessee’s leading rusher, Jalen Hurd (451 yards) quit the team. Sophomore John Kelly ran for 104 yards in last week’s win over Tennessee Tech, most on a 73-yard TD jaunt. UT might get the versatile Alvin Kamara (313 rushing yards; 22 catches for 260 passing yards) back against UK. The 5-10, 215-pound junior has been sidelined since suffering a thigh injury Oct. 15 against Alabama.
Kentucky’s Garrett Johnson (lost fumble after 21-yard gain) and Jeff Badet (tipped potential TD catch into a Georgia interception) had bad moments last week against Georgia. Junior wideout Dorian Baker, however, made a leaping third-down catch for a 24-yard gain that launched the UK drive that eventually led to a tying fourth-quarter field goal. Tennessee’s Josh Malone has 31 catches for 556 yards and seven TDs and is eighth in the SEC in receiving yards a game (61.8). Sophomore Jauan Jennings (25 catches, 360 yards, five TDs), a converted quarterback, has become a big-play threat.
Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad has not caught a pass in UK’s past two games. The sophomore from LaGrange, Ohio, needs three more receptions this season to eclipse his season total of 13 in 2015. Tennessee’s main tight ends, senior Jason Croom (11 catches, 148 yards) and junior Ethan Wolf (11, 136, one TD) have almost identical stat lines.
Kentucky left tackles Cole Mosier and Landon Young face the daunting challenge of slowing Tennessee pass-rusher deluxe Derek Barnett (SEC-best nine quarterback sacks). Mosier, a junior from Walton-Verona, is expected to play after suffering an ankle injury against Georgia. Tennessee had four starters back from 2015, but the Volunteers offensive line, plagued by injuries, has struggled in 2016. Things got so bad in the Alabama game that Butch Jones pulled a redshirt off true freshman tackle Marcus Tatum.
Kentucky ends Denzil Ware and Courtney Miggins have each started every game. Ware, a 6-2, 255-pound sophomore from Opp, Ala., has been disruptive, with 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Miggins, a 6-5, 285-pound senior from Lithonia, Ga., has 3.5 TFL. Tennessee’s Derek Barnett has dominated Kentucky. In two previous games against the Cats, the 6-3, 265-pound Nashville product has 14 tackles, six TFL and four sacks.
Kentucky sophomore WLB Jordan Jones had 10 tackles against Georgia, his third double-digit tackle game of 2016, and he has had at least seven stops in every game but one (four at Missouri). Tennessee MLB Darrin Kirkland Jr. missed five games after suffering an ankle injury against Virginia Tech. The sophomore from Indianapolis had eight tackles in his return Oct. 29 at South Carolina.
Kentucky nickel back/free safety Blake McClain is going out with a strong senior season. The 5-11, 200-pound product of Winter Park, Fla., is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has two pass breakups and 44 tackles. Tennessee lost safety Evan Berry for the season last week with a knee injury. The Volunteers, however, hope to get cornerback Cam Sutton back this week from a broken ankle suffered Sept. 17 against Ohio. Tennessee SS Todd Kelly Jr. (60 tackles, two interceptions, two TFL, one sack, one forced fumble) is an All-SEC candidate.
Kentucky true freshman punter Grant McKinniss is 13th (35.7 yards) in the SEC in net punting. Good UK punt coverage has helped the Cats compensate. Tennessee returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns against UK last season. Evan Berry brought the kickoff back 100 yards, and Cam Sutton returned the punt 84 yards. This season, Berry was averaging 32.9 yards a kickoff return, so his loss (see above) is a big blow to Tennessee. True freshman Marquez Callaway returned a punt 62 yards for a TD against Tennessee Tech.
Tennessee 35, Kentucky 23