Lots of passes

A close examination of the statistics suggests two things will happen in Saturday afternoon's Tennessee-Kentucky football game: (1) A lot of passes will be thrown. (2) Most of them will be completed.

Here's why: The Big Blue passes the ball better than anyone in the Southeastern Conference but it also defends the pass worse than anyone in the SEC.

Kentucky ranks No. 1 among the conference schools in passing offense (273.3 yards per game) and No. 12 among the conference schools in passing defense (271.3 yards per game).

Bottom line: This game may not be compelling but it ought to be entertaining. That's because the Wildcats have launched 368 passes … 23 more than Tennessee, which ranks No. 2 in SEC passing offense. UK's pass-happy ways can be traced to strong-armed quarterback Andre Woodson and talented receivers Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons.

Woodson leads the league in passing yards (2,934), passing touchdowns (27) and total offense (256.9 yards per game). Burton ranks No. 2 among SEC receivers in receptions (66), No. 4 in receiving yards per game (87.6) and No. 1 in receiving touchdowns (12). Counting his 51 yards on punt returns and 739 on kickoff returns, he also leads the SEC in all-purpose yards.

Burton caught three touchdown passes last week against Louisiana-Monroe, giving him four games in succession with at least two TD grabs.

Lyons is no slouch himself. Son of the former UK basketball player by the same name, he has caught 5 passes for 712 yards and eight TDs. He had a streak of three games with two TD grabs each earlier this season.

Asked what has made the big difference in Kentucky's passing game this fall, Vol secondary coach Larry Slade replied: "Confidence. I think Woodson is more confident and I think his receivers also are more confident. They're making plays for him, and that breeds that type of attitude. They believe they can win, and that's a marked difference from what they've done in the past."

The improvement in Kentucky's passing game began shortly after the hiring of former Vol aide Randy Sanders as quarterback coach. Slade thinks that's no coincidence.

"I compliment Randy," the Vol aide said. "I think Randy has added some things. They're just playing with a lot more confidence. They expect to make big plays. They feel real good about what they're doing, and they're doing it really well."

Asked if he expects the Wildcats' passing attack to keep his secondary on red alert this weekend Slade smiled.

"Shucks, when you throw the ball around the way they do and have the big-play players they have, they'd be crazy not to," the Vol aide said. "Then getting (star tailback) Rafael Little back really puts pressure on you because now they can run the ball, as well."

Most observers figure Sanders' in-depth knowledge of Tennessee's secondary schemes, tendencies and personnel could benefit the Wildcats. Slade concedes as much.

"We understand that he knows us really well," the coach said. "I would imagine there are some things from a scheme standpoint that he's going to try to get done."

So how does Slade counteract Sanders' inside information?

"We're going to go out," he said, "and do our thing."


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