Mark Story

How Kentucky and Tennessee match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden (1) caught three passes for 38 yards in last week’s 45-7 loss at Mississippi State. Further development from the 6-foot-1, 190-pound true freshman is likely UK’s best hope of adding explosive playmaking capacity to its offense.
Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden (1) caught three passes for 38 yards in last week’s 45-7 loss at Mississippi State. Further development from the 6-foot-1, 190-pound true freshman is likely UK’s best hope of adding explosive playmaking capacity to its offense. aslitz@herald-leader.com

How Kentucky (5-2. 2-2 SEC) and Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky senior Stephen Johnson will look to bounce back after his first bad game (13-of-28 passing, 117 yards, two interceptions) of 2017 last week in UK’s 45-7 loss at Mississippi State. On the season, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound product of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is completing 61.2 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,355 yards with nine TDs vs. four picks. Tennessee redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano is expected to make his third straight start after supplanting Quinten Dormady. Last week against No. 1 Alabama, the 6-4, 200-pound product of Lodi, N.J., completed nine of 16 passes for 44 yards with an interception. He’s hitting on 55.2 percent of his passes for the season.

Advantage: Kentucky

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Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson walked off the field after Mississippi State linebacker Gerri Green returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of UK’s 45-7 loss at Starkville. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Running backs

Kentucky sophomore Benny Snell is coming off a slog (18 yards on seven carries) last week at Mississippi State. While running for 1,091 yards last season as a true freshman, the 5-11, 223-pound product of Westerville, Ohio, averaged 5.9 yards a rush. This year, Snell is averaging 4.1 yards a carry. Tennessee Coach Butch Jones suspended John Kelly, UT’s leading rusher (615 yards) and receiver (26 catches), for the UK game after Kelly was issued a marijuana citation by Knoxville police following a traffic stop Tuesday. In Kelly’s absence, true freshman Ty Chandler (118 rushing yards) is expected to get the bulk of the carries. Chandler, a Nashville product, had a 91-yard kickoff return vs. Indiana State.

Advantage: Kentucky

Wide receivers

Kentucky senior Garrett Johnson had five catches (for 36 yards) at Mississippi State and is putting together an impressive senior season with a team-high 32 catches for 369 yards and two TDs. Mark Stoops praised true freshman Lynn Bowden (three catches, 38 yards) for making UK’s only “competitive-play” reception by hauling in a 28-yard pass from backup QB Drew Barker last week. Tennessee’s Brandon Johnson (22 catches, team-best 265 yards) is the only Vols wide receiver to start every game. Sophomore Marquez Callaway is the most dynamic UT receiver. He had 115 yards receiving on four catches with two TDs in Tennessee’s season-opening victory over Georgia Tech.

Advantage: Tennessee

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With 15 receptions that include three touchdown catches, Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway is the Volunteers’ most explosive playmaker. Brynn Anderson Associated Press

Tight ends

After getting off to a strong start (nine catches, three TDs in first four games), Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad is struggling. With an early drop of a catchable ball at Mississippi State, the 6-5, 245-pound junior has now gone three games without a reception. Tennessee senior Ethan Wolf has 12 receptions for 101 yards and caught his sole TD of 2017 against Florida. For his career, Wolf has 79 catches and five TDs.

Advantage: Tennessee

Offensive line

Kentucky sophomore left guard Logan Stenberg is the only UK offensive lineman to have started all seven games in the same position. UK sophomore left tackle Landon Young left the Mississippi State game after taking an awkward hit but told reporters this week he was “feeling great.” After five starts at center this season, Tennessee’s Jashon Robertson started at left guard against Alabama. The 6-3, 300-pound senior is UT’s highest-graded offensive lineman and has 16 knockdown blocks. True freshman Trey Smith, a lavishly hyped recruit, has started all seven games at right guard and carries the second-highest grade among UT offensive linemen.

Advantage: Even

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Kentucky sophomore left guard Logan Stenberg, right, is the only UK offensive lineman to start all seven games in 2017 in the same position. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Defensive line

Kentucky true freshman nose guard Quinton Bohanna, a 6-4, 320-pound product of Cordova, Tenn., moved ahead of senior Matt Elam to No. 2 on the UK depth chart this week. Bohanna had three tackles last week at Mississippi State. Tennessee senior DT Kendal Vickers has made 32 straight starts. Junior DE Kyle Phillips has 2.5 tackles for loss and two passes defended. In SEC games, both teams have been horrid against the run — UT allowing 232 yards a game, UK 183.8.

Advantage: Even

Defensive coordinator Matt House, linebacker Courtney Love and defensive end Denzil Ware talk about what Kentucky’s defense has done to bounce back from last week’s loss at Mississippi State.

Linebackers

OLB Josh Allen, UK’s breakout player in 2017, had five tackles, one TFL and two pass breakups at Mississippi State. WLB Jordan Jones had seven stops with a TFL last week in his return after missing four games due to a shoulder injury. Tennessee’s SLB Daniel Bituli leads the Volunteers with 57 tackles and supplied UT’s sole score in last week’s 45-7 loss at Alabama with a 97-yard interception return TD.

Advantage: Kentucky

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Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones (34) had seven tackles last week against Mississippi State, his first game back after missing four contests with a shoulder injury. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Defensive backs

Mark Stoops stated that there were 10 “competitive plays” in which Mississippi State receivers and UK defensive backs squared off for the ball last week and that the Cats DBs went 0-of-10. UK is 13th in the SEC against the pass, allowing 256.8 yards a game. Safeties Mike Edwards (11) and Darius West (nine) led Kentucky tacklers last week. Tennessee is seventh in the SEC in pass defense (189.2 yards a game). Junior free safety Micah Abernathy has a nose for the football, having recovered four fumbles and intercepted two passes in his career.

Advantage: Tennessee

After last Saturday’s 45-7 loss at Mississippi State, Kentucky’s secondary drew criticism from head coach Mark Stoops. Secondary coach Steve Clinkscale, safety Mike Edwards and cornerback Derrick Baity talk about the response.

Special teams

Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer (315 career points), place-kicker Austin MacGinnis is 13-for-18 on field goals, and three of the misses are from more than 50 yards. Punter Matt Panton averaged 45.1 yards on seven kicks at Mississippi State and stopped three kicks inside the 20. Tennessee punter Trevor Daniel is first in the SEC (47.7 yards a kick) and has pinned 18 of 44 punts inside the opponents’ 20. Freshman place-kicker Brent Cimaglia is 4-for-7 on field goals with a long of 51.

Advantage: Kentucky

Prediction

Kentucky 17, Tennessee 16

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