No. 19 Kentucky will face a big challenge on Saturday night — finding a way to slow the high-flying offense of No. 3 Tennessee in a key Southeastern Conference matchup in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Volunteers (7-0, 3-0) lead FBS with per-game averages of 50.1 points and 571.7 yards. Quarterback Hendon Hooker is playing at a Heisman Trophy level with 2,408 total yards, 18 touchdown passes and just one interception.
Receiver Jalin Hyatt has 40 catches for 769 yards and 12 touchdowns. The running game chips in nearly 203 yards per game, and the team converts third downs at a 51.5 percent clip.
So how can Kentucky keep Tennessee’s offense in check?
“When you’re playing the No. 1 offense in the country, you’d better be locked in,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “You better play at a high clip or you’ll get embarrassed.”
Earlier this month, Kentucky (5-2, 2-2) got a taste of what it will be up against with Tennessee. The Wildcats started October with a trip to Ole Miss to face coach Lane Kiffin’s fast-tempo, high-scoring attack. While the Wildcats lost, they kept the Rebels out of the end zone for the last three quarters of a 22-19 setback.
Kentucky also is coming off a bye week, meaning it is well-rested and should be in better health. The Wildcats dealt with a spate of key injuries in their last two games before the open date.
“We needed some time to heal,” Stoops said. “The players needed some time to heal up a little bit and get our legs up underneath us to play a team as fast as Tennessee is in all areas.”
The Wildcats’ pro-style attack, which looks to establish the running game first, could help their defense. Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez rushed for 197 yards on 31 carries Oct. 15 in a 27-17 home win over Mississippi State, and if he can approach those numbers again, it would enhance the opportunity for an upset.
The Volunteers will have to match Kentucky’s physicality up front in order to keep Rodriguez in check and give themselves plenty of opportunity to score.
“Sometimes, they have three or four tight ends on the field, so they’re very multiple in their formations and they’re really going to challenge your run fits,” said Tennessee linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary. “Gap integrity is going to be very, very big this week.”
The Volunteers didn’t have a bye last week, but they had the next best thing — a home game with an FCS opponent. Tennessee clobbered UT Martin 65-24 and played reserves for most of the second half.
Tennessee owns an 82-26-9 advantage in the all-time series against the Wildcats, including a 45-42 win last year at Kentucky when Hooker threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns.
–Field Level Media