Mark Story

Blue Preview: Your guide to Kentucky’s football game vs. Tennessee

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, right, has shaken hands with Tennessee head man Butch Jones as the losing coach all four times the Wildcats have played the Volunteers since Stoops and Jones each began their current jobs.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, right, has shaken hands with Tennessee head man Butch Jones as the losing coach all four times the Wildcats have played the Volunteers since Stoops and Jones each began their current jobs. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Tennessee at Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Kroger Field (formerly Commonwealth Stadium)

TV: SEC Network (play-by-play, Tom Hart; analysis, Jordan Rodgers; sideline Cole Cubelic)

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 191, Sirius Channel 119

Records: Kentucky 5-2 (2-2 SEC), Tennessee 3-4 (0-4 SEC)

Series: Tennessee leads 79-24-9 and has won 31 of the past 32 meetings

Last meeting: Tennessee won 49-36 on Nov. 12, 2016, in Knoxville

Line: Kentucky is favored by six points

The story line

This looks on paper to be a prime shot for Kentucky’s first football win over Tennessee since 2011’s “Matt Roark game.” A victory would allow UK to get its season back on track after last week’s embarrassing 45-7 obliteration at Mississippi State. Meanwhile, with the wolves again baying in Knoxville, UT may literally be playing for the job of embattled head coach Butch Jones.

On the spot

Mark Stoops. His reputation as the coordinator who resurrected Florida State’s defense helped Stoops land the Kentucky head coaching job. Yet midway through Stoops’ fifth year as UK head man, the Wildcats are ninth in the SEC in total defense and dead last against the pass. Suffice to say, should a Tennessee offense that has not scored a touchdown in its past seven halves of football and which will be without its best offensive player (see below) show out against Kentucky, that will not be a great look for Stoops.

The big threat

Brandon Johnson. With the suspension of running back John Kelly — Tennessee’s leader in rushing (615 yards) and receptions (26) — sophomore wide receiver Brandon Johnson (22 catches, team-high 265 receiving yards) is the most proven playmaker the Volunteers’ struggling offense will have on the field.

The mood

Turned gnarly real quick. For a variety of reasons, there hadn’t been an abundant “fan buy-in” even as Kentucky began the season 5-1. What belief in the 2017 Cats that there was took a grievous blow in UK’s debacle at Mississippi State. Normally, the prospect of a rare win over Tennessee would energize the Kentucky fan base. However, the Volunteers have struggled so much, a UK victory will not create as much good feeling as a Cats loss will gin up ill will. Still, this is a game Stoops and Kentucky really need to win.

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