Tennessee at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Kroger Field (formerly Commonwealth Stadium)
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.
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.