Tennessee and Kentucky are coming off blowout losses, as the two programs are set to clash in Lexington on Saturday night. The Vols are coming off a 45-7 loss to Alabama, while the Wildcats traveled down to Starkville last Saturday and lost 45-7.
While both teams are down in the dumps following last weekend, Tennessee has hit rock-bottom, whereas Kentucky still has a possible path to make it to Atlanta as the SEC East champions. Forget about the drama surrounding head coach Butch Jones. The Vols are headed to Lexington without their best player.
On Tuesday night, star running back John Kelly was cited for having marijuana in his vehicle along with freshman linebacker Will Ignont. Kelly was pulled over due by the Knoxville Police Department due to a busted headlight, and that is when KPD smelled marijuana coming from the car.
Following the citation, Kelly and Ignont were suspended for this Saturday’s game by Jones on Wednesday afternoon. Despite everything going on off the field in Knoxville, here’s what Tennessee needs to do in order to beat Kentucky.
Find more production in the passing game
From the moment Tennessee started the season, the offense seems to have become very one dimensional in their efforts to score. It’s possible that the quarterback situation has contributed to the offense’s mediocrity, but if you look at the play calling from the South Carolina game, it is apparent that Coach Jones isn’t taking any chances down field.
For example, Jarret Guarantano only had four completed passes in the first half against South Carolina, which only amounted to 54 yards. However, if you look at the Vols last offensive drive of that game, Guarantano had four completed passes for 72 yards that got the Vols down to the two-yard-line. It’s very clear that if Butch gives Guarantano more opportunities to pass the ball, he could have had a more successful game and possibly a win. If Guarantano shows up ready to play on Saturday, the volunteers could have a very good chance of beating the wildcats.
Ty Chandler needs to be ready to play
After the suspension Kelly, it will be interesting to see how the Volunteer’s running game will respond. Kelly is leading the team in rushing with 615 yards on the season. Chandler hasn’t been given many moments to shine, but when he gets the ball, he has been pretty productive.
The true freshman is averaging about four yards-per-carry, which is comparable to Kelly’s average rush. Chandler is just as good as of a receiver as he is a running back. He has the fifth most receiving yards on the team, which shows that he is reliable at catching the ball out of the back field. If he is given the chance, he could cause real problems for the Kentucky defense.
Tennessee’s offensive line needs to play better
Tennessee’s offensive line has made a lot of mental errors this season. A few notable occurrences are from the South Carolina and Florida games. The offense’s momentum was brought to a halt as one of the starting five linemen was flagged for holding or a false start.
These minor issues would be easy to over-look, but if you add these mental mistakes to the offensive line’s inability to protect the quarterback, it presents even greater issues that need to be worked out. The O-line has given up 16 total sacks this season, and if they aren’t prepared against Kentucky, it could be time that some of the backups are given a chance to compete.
Contain Stephen Johnson
As a dual-threat quarterback, Stephen Johnson has scored 11 total touchdowns for Kentucky this season. If the defensive line can win their one-on-one matchups, they can put enough pressure on Johnson to make mistakes. If Rashaan Gaulden can cause an interception or disrupt a few passes, it could definitely put more pressure on Kentucky to run the ball. Kentucky is ranked 10th in the SEC in rushing, so by all means if the Vols stop Johnson from making accurate throws, it could spell trouble for the wildcats.
Tennessee need to be more creative on offense
Tennessee is ranked last in the SEC on third down conversions, only picking up 30 first downs on 96 attempts. This begs the question, does Tennessee have any trick plays up its sleeve? Apparently not, because the Vols also haven’t scored an offensive touchdown since Sept. 23rd, when the Vols barely escaped with a win over UMass.
Butch Jones’ offense is generally conservative, but it seems overly obvious that this might be the wrong route to take. Jones needs to consider throwing some unorthodox plays in the play calling this week, or it could spell disaster again for Tennessee if the offense doesn’t convert on crucial third down situations.
Edited by Ben McKee
Photo by Sumner Gilliam