Devil's Advocate: Vols vs. Kentucky

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of point/counterpoint — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart take opposite sides of the field to make their case for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.

THESE CATS HAVE NO CLAWS By Randy Moore Kentucky's best chance to win Saturday's season finale against Tennessee is to catch the Big Orange napping ... which COULD happen if the Vols spend pre-game ceremonies watching tape of the Wildcat offense. The Big Blue attack has put more people to sleep this fall than all the Sominex in all the world. Things are so bad that Ron Hudson resigned earlier this week, leaving the Cats with no offensive coordinator. Honestly, do you think anybody will notice?

With or without a coordinator, the declawed Mildcats are about as dangerous as a common housefly; they make a little noise but pose no real threat. The Not-So-Big Blue averages a paltry 14 points per game. If you discount a 51-point Game 2 outburst against hapless Indiana, the average drops to 10 points per game.

Kentucky isn't content to stink merely at the regional level, though. The Cats rank 114th nationally (out of 117 Div. 1 schools) in total offense and 115th in scoring offense. A real juggernaut, huh?

Given UK's laughable ineptitude on offense, Vol defenders might have entered Saturday's game under motivated and overconfident. But that possibility evaporated when Vanderbilt hung 420 yards and 33 points on the Big Orange last weekend. After having their butts chewed by defensive coordinator John Chavis all week, Tennessee's stop unit will be looking for a shutout Saturday. Odds are, the Vols will find it.

Quarterback Shane Boyd leads the Big Blue in both rushing and passing. Of course, leading Kentucky in any offensive category is a dubious distinction. Boyd averages just 2.8 yards per carry and his passing stats are less than stellar -- a 51.1 completion percentage, a 91.7 passer-efficiency rating and nearly twice as many interceptions (8) as touchdown passes (5). Peyton Manning, he ain't.

Because Kentucky's offense is so bad, Kentucky's defense spends a lot of time on the field. As a result, the Wildcats' stop unit ranks dead last among SEC teams in total defense (410 yards per game) and scoring defense (30 points per game). To put that in perspective, consider this: Remember how bad UT's defense looked vs. Vanderbilt? That's how bad Kentucky's defense looks in an AVERAGE performance.

There's no such thing as a lead-pipe cinch in SEC football. But this week's Big Orange-Big Blue mismatch is about as close to it as you'll find.

FRESH CATS COULD BE (F)RISKY

By: Jeffery Stewart My smooth-typing colleague has managed to compare Kentucky to Vanderbilt in every way but head-to-head play. So it falls to me to point out the Wildcats beat the Dores, 14-13, just one week before Vandy scared the Yale out of Tennessee.

True, that game was in Lexington, but it was also played by a Kentucky team that was playing for the ninth consecutive week without a break. UT fans only have to think Notre Dame to remember how the Vols were running on fumes after playing eight straight without a break. Conversely, Tennessee had two weeks rest before taking on Vanderbilt, which, by contrast, was playing its tenth straight week when it pushed Tennessee to the edge of a stark reality. The Vols have lost the distinct edge in depth they normally enjoy against SEC have-nots Vandy and Kentucky, because they have too many players out with injuries or struggling to play through them. The offensive line and secondary have been particularly hard hit but so has the D-line and linebackers.

Of course, Tennessee's QB ranks are devastated and, although Rick Clausen did a very good job running the offense last week, his limitations in arm strength allow defenses to play their safeties like linebackers. That in turn can present numerical problems for UT's run blocking schemes as was the case when the Vols were shut down in the fourth quarter vs. Vandy. Additionally, the Wildcats have a better pass defense than the Dores did, ranking No. 8 in the SEC just behind No. 7 UT, just ahead of No. 9 Georgia and three spots ahead of No. 11 Vanderbilt.

If Tennessee has a home-field advantage, it's difficult to prove it by the record. Both of UT's setbacks this season have been in Neyland Stadium. Last year's worst performance was a 41-14 loss against Georgia in Knoxville. Three of four regular seasons losses in 2002 took place in the House that Bob Built, as did the only regular season defeat in 2001. Do the math and you'll find that seven of UT's last nine regular season defeats have been at home. In fact, the last time the Vols lost to Kentucky was 1984 in K-town.

Here's four more quick points to ponder before precluding UT will run its record to 9-2 and its win streak over Kentucky to 20 in a row.

• The Vols went into last week's Vanderbilt game off a loss and with a chance to clinch a berth in the SEC Championship game. How will they respond coming off a victory and with a title shot in the their back pocket?

• Tennessee almost lost to Vanderbilt despite enjoying an uncommon turnover advantage of plus two. How will they fare against Kentucky if that advantage is reversed?

• Although Clausen has performed capably, he has yet to lead UT to a single point while trailing. What if he finds his team behind as it has been in eight of ten games played so far in 2004?

• The last time the Wildcats had an off week they responded with a season-high 51-point scoring outburst against Indiana. How many points would be too many to overcome for a UT offense that has struggled most of the season? 31? 21?

Think about it.


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