Mark Story

How No. 11 Kentucky and Tennessee match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky QB Terry Wilson: ‘I know we’ll win out’

Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson says this Kentucky team is special despite the loss to Georgia on Saturday. The Cats have Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and Louisville left before a trip to a bowl game.
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Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson says this Kentucky team is special despite the loss to Georgia on Saturday. The Cats have Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and Louisville left before a trip to a bowl game.

How No. 11 Kentucky (7-2, 5-2 SEC) and Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky redshirt sophomore Terry Wilson has thrown for 267 and 226 yards over the past two games, his two best passing performances of the season. For the year, the junior-college transfer has completed 67.6 percent of his throws for 1,214 yards with six touchdown passes and six interceptions and run for 418 yards and three TDs. Tennessee redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano performed well against UK a season ago, completing 18 of 23 passes for 242 yards. A 6-4, 209-pound pocket passer, Guarantano is completing 65.4 percent of his throws for 1,571 yards with nine TDs vs. only two picks.

Advantage: Even

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Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) completed 18 of 23 passes for 242 yards last season in UT’s 29-26 loss to Kentucky at Kroger Field. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Running backs

Kentucky star Benny Snell has been held under 100 yards rushing in four of the past five games. Nevertheless, the 5-11, 223-pound junior continues to lead the SEC in rushing (1,008 yards). A season ago, the Westerville, Ohio, product ran for 180 yards and three TDs vs. UT. In UK’s 34-17 loss to Georgia last week, AJ Rose caught four passes for a team-best 59 yards, including a 31-yard TD catch. Tennessee sophomore Ty Chandler became the first UT back ever to have TD receptions in three straight games earlier this season. A Nashville product, the 5-11, 201-pound sophomore has run for 371 yards and a TD and caught 19 passes for 183 yards. Last year, Chandler ran for 120 yards and two TDs vs. UK. Sophomore Tim Jordan is UT’s leading rusher (414 yards, two TDs).

Advantage: Kentucky

Kentucky football running back Benny Snell talks about becoming the first player in UK history to rush for 1,000 yards in three different seasons. UK lost to Georgia 34-17 on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

Wide receivers

Kentucky sophomore slot receiver Lynn Bowden caught six passes for 52 yards vs. Georgia. The 6-1, 195-pound Youngstown, Ohio, product has caught at least three passes in every game and is fourth in the SEC in receiving (49 receptions, 504 yards, three TDs). Tavin Richardson made two huge catches (and three overall for 52 yards) in last year’s win over UT. The 6-3, 207-pound junior hasn’t gotten untracked this season (nine catches, 160 yards). Tennessee’s Marquez Callaway (30 catches, 402 yards), Jauan Jennings (26, 335, three TDs) and Josh Palmer (18, 414, two) give the Volunteers a capable trio of pass catchers.

Advantage: Tennessee

Kentucky sophomore wide receiver Lynn Bowden doesn’t normally return punts. But with UK trailing Missouri 14-3, Bowden asked to go in and returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown that sparked team to 15-14 win.

Tight ends

Kentucky senior CJ Conrad has 21 catches for 148 yards and a TD (the game-winner in UK’s 15-14 victory at Missouri). The blocking of the 6-5, 252-pound LaGrange, Ohio, product is also important to the UK rushing attack. Tennessee’s Dominick Wood-Anderson (10 catches, 108 yards) and Eli Wolf (four, 22) have each caught a touchdown pass this season.

Advantage: Kentucky

UK senior tight end C.J. Conrad says the Cats need to "play better in big moments" after their loss to Georgia on Saturday. He and other UK leaders will keep this team on track, he said.

Offensive line

The all-senior, right side of Kentucky’s front, tackle George Asafo-Adjei and guard Bunchy Stallings, have each been named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice this season. Tennessee’s line has been decimated by health problems, including the loss of star left tackle Trey Smith due to blood clots in his lungs. Center Ryan Johnson, a 6-6, 302-pound redshirt sophomore, is the glue among the unit still playing.

Advantage: Kentucky

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Defensive line

Against Georgia, his home-state school, Kentucky junior end Calvin Taylor had his best game of the year. The 6-9, 300-pound, Augusta, Ga., product had four tackles and one tackle for loss. Tennessee senior end Kyle Phillips had four tackles, two TFL, two pass breakups and a QB sack in the win over Charlotte. Earlier this season, the 6-4, 273-pound Nashville product had a pick-six against Alabama.

Advantage: Even

Kyle Phillips chases Tua.JPG
Tennessee defensive lineman Kyle Phillips (5) chased Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) during the Crimson Tide’s 58-21 win over the Volunteers Oct. 20. Phillips scored a touchdown on a 27-yard interception return in the third quarter of the game. Joy Kimbrough Associated Press

Linebackers

Kentucky star OLB/rush end Josh Allen was held to three tackles and two fumble recoveries by Georgia. The 6-4, 260-pound product of Montclair, N.J., still leads the SEC in sacks (10), TFL (14.5) and forced fumbles (five). For the second straight game, both MLB Kash Daniel and WLB Jordan Jones will play with broken hands Saturday. Last week, Jones had nine tackles, Daniel four while playing with a protective club on their broken hands. Tennessee MLB Daniel Bituli was strong (13 tackles, one TFL) for Coach Jeremy Pruitt’s Vols vs. Charlotte. The 6-3, 244-pound junior is 24th in the SEC in tackles with 57.

Advantage: Kentucky

UK linebacker Kash Daniel had four tackles in Saturday's loss to Georgia. He and Jordan Jones (nine tackles Saturday) are both playing with casts due to hand injuries suffered this season.

Defensive backs

Kentucky free safety Darius West is suspended for the first half at Tennessee after being ejected for targeting last week. That means Henry Clay product Davonte Robinson is expected to make his second straight start after starting as the nickle back vs. Georgia. The 6-2, 200-pound redshirt sophomore had nine tackles vs. Georgia. Tennessee cornerback Bryce Thompson has been one of the SEC’s best true freshmen. The 5-11, 180-pound product of Irmo. S.C., has made four TFL, three interceptions and three pass breakups.

Advantage: Kentucky

davonte.jpg
Kentucky safety Davonte Robinson, the former Henry Clay High School star, is expected to start at free safety Saturday at Tennessee in place of Darius West. After receiving an ejection for targeting against Georgia, West must sit out the first half at UT. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Special teams

Kentucky punt coverage surrendered a 65-yard return to Georgia’s Mecole Hardman that led to the Bulldogs’ first TD. UK Coach Mark Stoops said punter Max Duffy outkicked his coverage down the middle of the field. That’s been a rare miscue for Duffy, who is averaging 45.1 yards and has pinned 21 of his 42 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line. True freshman Chance Poore is 2-of-2 on field-goal tries since becoming UK’s place-kicker. Tennessee’s Marquez Callaway returned a punt 82 yards for a TD vs. Charlotte. Place-kicker Brent Cimaglia is 8-of-11 on FGAs with a long of 45 yards. Punter Joe Doyle is averaging 41.9 yards with 19 of 44 kicks stopped inside the 20.

Advantage: Tennessee

Duffypunt
Australian Max Duffy has stopped 21 of his 42 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line so far this season for Kentucky. Ken Weaver

Prediction

Kentucky 17, Tennessee 12

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

UK football coach Mark Stoops, running-back Benny Snell Jr., and the rest of the UK football team celebrates a 29-26 win over Tennessee at Kroger Field.

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