Devil's Advocate

Making a case for Tennessee is a little like representing the Menendez Brothers on charges of killing their parents, and asking the jury to take pity on them because they are orphans.

In other words: this is a mess of the Vols' own making, a saga of ineptitude and an underachievement of epic proportions. Asking our readers to believe things will change at this late date with a depleted Tennessee team and shaky staff is an insult to your intelligence. So I won't bother.

Instead, I would like to argue that Tennessee's usual game might be enough to beat Kentucky. Yes, I realize that Kentucky scored twice as many points while beating Vanderbilt in Nashville as Tennessee did a week later while losing to Vanderbilt in Knoxville, but they also gave up 15 more points than the Vols did.

In fact, over its last three contests Kentucky has given up an average of 45.6 points per game, and has allowed a robust 35.4 points in home games this season. Not that Tennessee will necessarily approach either of those averages. Believe it or not, if the Vols don't score more than 27 points in regulation play Saturday, it will be the first time a UT team has failed to reach that figure in at least one contest during over a single season since the T-formation was installed in 1964. ( And they say the Vols don't have anything left to play for.)

On the other hand, as bad as Tennessee has been this season the defense has been very sound. The Vols haven't given up more than 28 points in any game this season. In the conference they held Florida to 16, LSU to 20, Georgia to 20, South Carolina to 16, Ole Miss to 10, and Alabama to 6. Vanderbilt scored 28 last week, but that still comes out to an average of 17.6 points against SEC opponents. They are giving up an average of 17.0 points per game against a trio of non-conference foes. Now that's consistency.

If Tennessee plays its normal defensive game, Kentucky will be hard pressed to score 20 points. That's in a range that UT's offense can realistically reach, especially with Ainge starting at quarterback.

Yes, I know that Ainge has struggled all season, but the Vols are 3-1 in games that he has started and 1-5 in games Clausen started. Tennessee is also averaging 22 points per contest when Ainge has drawn the starting assignment. That modest success has more to do with the fact Clausen is better coming to the rescue than he is as a starter. Ainge is slated to start against the Wildcats and Clausen has been cleared to play. The conditions are right for this unusual dynamic to repeat itself.

Speaking of repeating, the Vols have won 20 in a row in this series which doesn't exactly favor Kentucky's upset bid. Vanderbilt broke its 22-game losing streak last week because it had an exceptional quarterback. Kentucky won't have a future first round NFL draft choice standing behind center on Saturday, and the Wildcats talent doesn't measure up to Tennessee's overall.

Some have noted the Vols were unable to win when they had something to play for. How will they play now that their bowl hopes have ended? That's a fair question and there's a good answer.

This is all Tennessee has left to play for, and if there is any pride left it will all come out on Saturday.


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