Will Vols Whip Wildcats?

Tennessee enters this annual border war with a 66-23-9 advantage, a 31-13-3 edge in Lexington and 18 straight victories dating back to 1985. Because the Vols have generally been in bowl or title contention during that span, this game is almost always significant to their cause, and Tennessee has managed to prevail, even when it didn't come out ready to rumble.

Some of the games in the Blue Grass State have been no contests like the 42-0 win in 1985, the 48-0 win in 1993 and the 56-21 victory in 1999. But several of the games played in Lexington during Tennessee's 18-year run of success have been hard fought and competitive. For instance: The Vols needed a dramatic goal-line stand to repel Kentucky in 1987 by a count of 24-22. Then there were UT comebacks in 1995, 34-31, and 2001, 38-35.

On average, Tennessee's wins in Knoxville have by by 28.4 points while the average win in Lexington has been by 19.1 points. Three games in Lexington have been decided by three points or less while only one game in Knoxville has been decided by less than 19 points. That was in 1988 by a score of 28-24.

Although this game doesn't carry the importance to Vol fans that other high-profile opponents do, it's interesting to note that this 99th meeting vs. Kentucky is more than UT has played against Georgia, Florida and LSU combined.

Of course, a very similar set of dynamics existed last week when Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt for the 21st straight time. That is the third longest current win streak by a Division I team over a D-I opponent. The Vols streak over Kentucky rates right behind at fourth. Notre Dame's 40-game streak over Navy is No. 1, followed by Nebraska's 35 straight over Kansas. Since 1965, UT is 31-4 verses the Wildcats.

That background indicates how rare it is for Kentucky to score a win against the Vols, and why a victory would make the Wildcats season. On the other hand, a Tennessee loss would put the damper on what has become a very fine campaign, not to mention what it would do to the Vols' bowl prospects or next season's prospectus.

Tennessee has the psychological advantage from a standpoint of both incentive and confidence. Additionally, the Vols are coming in with a hot hand and an upwardly mobile profile. Conversely, Kentucky has been unable to get any traction after suffering a heartbreaking seven-overtime loss to Arkansas.

That's why, while I respect Kentucky's program and the talents of Jared Lorenzen and several of his teammates, I can't see the Cats coming up with the type of effort or performance that would be required to pull an upset.

Tennessee has the advantage up front on both sides of the line. That means I would look for the Vols to move the sticks and get the ground game untracked. Kentucky ranks next to last in both rush and total defense in the SEC. That's bad news when going against Casey Clausen who is the consumate operator at the pinnacle of his craft.

The Wildcats are also next to last in rushing yards gained in the conference. That's why the Vols will deploy a full out attack of the pocket with a combination of stunts and blitzes. Tennessee's corners are locking down wide receivers, and Gibril Wilson is playing as well at strong safety as Vol in recent memory. Rashad Baker and Corey Campbell provide security in the deep zone.

This is a contest in which Tennessee's quickness and depth at linebacker will standout, and a match, in which, UT's defensive ends have a chance to shine. The Vols need to clamp down on fullback Alexis Bwenge — especially on draws and delays — but the Wildcats lack a big-play threat in the backfield. That will allow Tennessee to be ultra aggressive on defense which will disrupt Kentucky's offensive timing.

The Wildcats will counter with a lot of misdirection in attempt to catch UT over pursuing. You can expect back-up QB Shane Boyd to run some option, but if Derek Abney isn't close to 100 percent, or can't go long, all the pressure to carry the Cats will fall on Lorenzen. When placed in that same situation by a Vanderbilt team that doesn't possess UT's athleticism or diversity, the Cats could not overcome the tactic.

Add it up and it comes out to win No. 10 for Tennessee, and 19 losses in a row for the Wildcats.

Prediction: Tennessee 37-20

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