The Tennessee Volunteers (3-4, 0-4 SEC) travel to Lexington on Saturday to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (5-2, 2-2 SEC) in search of a sixth straight win over the Wildcats. Kentucky is coming off a 45-7 beating at the hands of Dan Mullen and Mississippi State last week. However, they look to salvage their SEC East hopes with a win over the Vols.
Here is everything you need to know about the Wildcats going into Saturday’s matchup with Tennessee.
Kentucky’s offense is completely built around the run game. However, senior quarterback Stephen Johnson is the missing piece of the puzzle for the Wildcats offensive efficiency. Johnson has only tallied six games with over 200 yards passing in his career, with only three of the games coming against SEC schools. This season, Johnson has only had two, 200-yard games. Against Mississippi State last week, Johnson threw for just 117 yards and two interceptions.
As previously mentioned, the Kentucky rushing attack is its bread-and-butter. Star sophomore running back Benny Snell leads the running back room with over 500 yards rushing and three 100-yard rushing games this season. Johnson and junior tailback Sihiem King have combined for over 400 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. More often than not, when the Wildcats ground game is struggling, the whole team does. In each of Kentucky’s losses this season, they were held to under 150 rushing yards.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Senior receiver Garrett Johnson is head-and-shoulders above any Wildcats receivers statistically, and is Stephen Johnson’s favorite target. Johnson has registered 32 catches for 369 yards this season, which is 21 catches and 200 yards more than the second most targeted receiver. Although Johnson is targeted vastly more than other receivers, the ball is spread around quite well, as four receivers have over 10 catches and six have over 100 yards so far in 2017. Tight end C.J. Conrad is the next best pass catcher aside from Johnson with 195 yards, and a team-high three receiving touchdowns.
Kentucky’s offensive line has been the most inconsistent and troubling area of the whole team this season. Quarterback Stephen Johnson has been sacked 15 times already this season, which is five less than he was sacked all of last season. They also allowed the Wildcats to rush for an abysmal 131 yards against Southern Mississippi and Eastern Michigan combined. They were especially dominated last game by Mississippi State’s dominant defensive line as they had three sacks and seven tackles-for-loss on Saturday. The game will likely be won or lost in the trenches for the Wildcats against Tennessee.
Linebackers Courtney Love, Darius West, Denzil Ware and Josh Allen have formed one of the best front sevens in the SEC for Kentucky this season. Love and West have accounted for 99 tackles, one interception and two forced fumbles. Meanwhile, Ware and Allen have combined for 55 tackles and nine sacks in 2017. The Wildcats front seven is loaded with veteran talent that will create a ton of problems for struggling offensive lines such as the Volunteers. However, the Kentucky secondary could be Tennessee’s biggest problem heading into Saturday in Lexington.
The Wildcats secondary boasts one of the best safeties in the SEC and the nation in Mike Edwards. Edwards leads the team in tackles with 53 and has defended five passes through seven games for Kentucky. Fellow safety Darius West is just as dangerous with 48 tackles and two passes defended himself. Chris Westry and Derrick Baity hold down the cornerback position with a combined 66 tackles, six passes defended and one interception. The Cats’ secondary has continually shutdown offenses through the air, which doesn’t bode well for the Vols.
Kicker Austin MacGinnis has consistently been one of the best kickers in the conference throughout his career, but he is just making 72-percent of his field goals this season. Punter Matt Panton has been solid with 40 punts for an average of 43-yards. True freshman Lynn Bowden Jr. is one of the most highly touted recruits for head coach Mark Stoops. Bowden has taken back 12 kicks for an average of 24-yards, and is a huge threat in the return game.
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of UT Sports