First off, let me get this out of my system. Tennessee sucks. Everything about them sucks. Those colors. That ridiculously annoying song that they play after every two-yard gain. And what makes the song even more annoying is that it somehow gets stuck in your head. I hate them. Can’t stand them. And the fact that I’ve never seen UK beat them in football in my life makes it even worse.
I feel better. Now to the game.
I think it goes without saying that both Kentucky and Tennessee have struggled mightily this season. In fact, a loss to either team on Saturday puts their head coach in an even hotter seat. Think about it. If the ‘Cats lose, their lone wins this season were over WKU, Central Michigan, Jacksonville State and a really bad Ole Miss team. If the Vols lose, they are not bowl eligible and they fall to the Kentucky Wildcats for the first time in a quarter century.
Both, Joker Phillips and Derek Dooley need this one…bad.
The Volenteers started the season at 3-1, with wins over Montana, Cincinnati and Buffalo. Their early loss was a 33-23 loss at Florida. In their last seven games, they are just 2-5 and none of their SEC losses have been real close. They played Georgia okay, losing 20-12, but they were crushed by the three schools at the top of the BCS standings (LSU L 38-7, Alabama L 37-6, Arkansas L 49-7).
They did get back on the winning track last week with a 27-21 overtime victory at home versus Vandy. And we all know how easily the Commodores handled Kentucky.
The best news for the Vols is that sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray is back in the starting lineup after suffering a thumb injury. While Bray was out, the Vols simply could not find a way to move the football. But, he returned to the gridiron last week, after missing five games, and while his overall numbers weren’t great, he made big plays down the stretch to win the thing.
On the season he is 132-209 for 1768 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Last year against the Wildcats, the then freshman torched the defense for over 350 yards and two touchdowns, in the 24-14 win.
At 6’6″, Bray is a tall quarterback, but they are still looking for him to add some weight. He has a nice, smooth release and tremendous accuracy. He sees the field really well and does a great job of going through his progressions. He’s a good athlete, but not a real threat to tuck it and run.
Senior Tauren Poole (5-10, 215) is the Vols’ featured tailback. In year’s past, the running game is something that Tennessee has really used to continuously beat the Wildcats. But, their ground game has not been as strong this year as it has been in year’s past. In fact, Poole is averaging just 3.7 yards-per-carry and has just 661 yards and five touchdowns on the year. He did have a strong game against Vandy last week, so still look for the Vols to attempt to establish the run against the ‘Cats.
Poole is a downhill runner that does his best work between the tackles. He has good vision and balance that runs strong and has the ability to run through defenders.
The Vols most explosive offensive weapon is the sophomore wideout Da’Rick Rogers (6-3, 215). It was Rogers, who made ridiculous catch after ridiculous catch a week ago to help Tennessee secure the win over Vandy. Rogers is an elite athlete that has both the strength and speed to beat up opposing corners. This kid is a for real NFL prospect.
On the season, he has six 100-yard receiving games and overall has 65 receptions for 1002 yards and nine touchdowns. His 65 receptions lead the SEC and his 1002 yards are tied for first with Arkansas’ Jarius Wright. He has a chance to become the third player in Tennessee history to catch ten touchdowns and gain over 1000 yards in a season. He didn’t catch a ball against the Wildcats a year ago, but expect that to change dramatically this year.
Unfortunately, I think this game once again comes down to Kentucky’s ineptitude on offense. When you can’t move the football, you can’t score points and you wear out a defense that has worked their tails off the entire season. Kentucky is averaging just 16 points per game and ranks last or next to last in every offensive category in the SEC. Add in the fact that Maxwell Smith is suffering through a shoulder injury and has regressed in the last two games and things don’t look good.
I would love to see the 26-game losing streak come to a close on Saturday. I just don’t see it happening. Now what do you do with Joker Phillips? We’ll talk about it a ton on Sunday Morning on ESPN 680 from 10 a.m. to noon.