By: RANDY MOORE
Given that Kentucky has the worst defense in NCAA Div. 1 football, it's a safe bet the Wildcats won't stop Tennessee Saturday at Neyland Stadium. But the Big Blue may not have to. Often as not, the Vols stop themselves.
Consider these examples from last week's game against Vanderbilt:
• Tennessee gains 36 yards on its first three scrimmage plays, then stalls and settles for a James Wilhoit field goal.
• Tennessee advances to the Vandy 16-yard line on its second possession, then has a 3-yard run, a 2-yard run and a 1-yard completion, before Wilhoit boots another field goal.
• Tennessee marches to the Vanderbilt 2-yard line, then loses three yards on third-and-goal. Wilhoit kicks another field goal.
• Tennessee advances to the Commodore 27-yard line only to lose 10 yards on a holding penalty, then lose the ball on a fumble.
• Tennessee starts a possession at the Vandy 13-yard line after an interception. Two incompletions and a holding penalty later, the Vols are backed up to the 24. Wilhoit kicks his fourth field goal of the day.
The five forays into Vandy territory chronicled above produced a mere 12 points. If the Vol offense is similarly sloppy against Kentucky, Saturday's game will not be the romp most UT fans expect. For all of their defensive deficiencies, the Cats are pretty powerful in terms of offense and special teams.
Quarterback Andre Woodson leads the SEC in passing yards (2,934) and passing touchdowns (27). Ace receiver Keenan Burton leads the league in touchdown catches (12) and ranks fourth in receiving yards (87.6 per game). Rafael Little, one of the SEC's finest runners, is back after missing several games due to injury. The Big Blue's offensive weapons are on par with those of LSU and Florida, two teams that beat Tennessee.
Kentucky's terrific special teams' tandem of Little (25.9 yards per punt return) and Burton (25.5 yards per kickoff return) could give the Vols fits.
If Tennessee's offense stops itself a few times, as it did last Saturday against Vanderbilt, the Vols could find themselves in a real catfight this weekend.
By: JEFFERY STEWART
If you're a little foggy on the last time Kentucky defeated Tennessee in football, here are a few historic landmarks to give you a better sense of perspective.
• Head coach Johnny Majors was in the eighth year of his four-year rebuilding project at Tennessee. He would lead the Vols to their first SEC title since 1969 the next year.
• Tennessee's starting quarterback was a talented junior named Tony Robinson, who began a string of standout signal callers on The Hill. He would be followed by such notables as Jeff Francis, Andy Kelly, Heath Shuler, Petyon Manning and Tee Martin.
• Tennessee's starting tailback was Johnnie Jones, who was the first UT player to ever gain 1,000 yards in a single season. Since then Jones has been joined in that high caliber club of ball carriers by nine others — Reggie Cobb, Chuck Webb, Tony Thompson, Charlie Garner, James Stewart, Jay Graham, Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry and Travis Stephens.
• Punting for the Vols was Jimmy Colquitt, second cousin of current UT punter Britton Colquitt, who wasn't born when the Vols last lost to the Wildcats.
• Elsewhere in the world, Ronald Reagan was still in his first term as President. Round and Round by Ratt was the No. 1 song that year and Amadeus won the Oscar for best picture.
• The Berlin Wall would not fall until seven years later. The cell phone would not go into mass production until a decade later. One in every 500 households in the United States had a home computer.
A lot has changed since 1984 when Kentucky last beat Tennessee by a score of 17-12, but one thing that has stayed the same is UT's dominance in this SEC series.
Since that day the Volunteers have won 21 straight games against the Wildcats. Most haven't been close and rarely have the Vols had problems scoring points. The next season UT beat Kentucky 42-0. In 1991 they won 45-0. In 1993 they won 48-0. In 1994 UT blanked the Cats 52-0. In 2002 the score was 24-0.
And that just covers the shutouts. There have also been Tennessee victories of 28-9, 31-10, 34-13, 56-10, 59-31, 59-21, 56-21, 59-20, 20-7 and 27-8. There have been several close games such as the 2001 contest when the Vols had to rally from a three TD deficit to score a 38-35 victory, but by and large the Vols have mastered the Cats.
In fact, during UT's 21-season winning streak over Kentucky the average margin of victory is 23.1 points. Between 1996 and 2000 UT beat the Wildcats by an average of 37.2 points.
Now none of this means Tennessee will beat Kentucky on Saturday, but it does mean the Wildcats are bucking a hell of a trend. That's before we even factor in current trends. The Wildcats have only won two road games the last three seasons. Their victories have come against Texas State, Ole Miss, Central Michigan, Mississippi State, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Louisiana Monroe.
Kentucky's losses have been to Louisville, Florida, South Carolina and LSU. The average margin of defeat is 24.2 points. The Wildcats can score points but they can't stop even weak offenses, as last week's 42-40 win over Louisiana Monroe in Lexington indicates.
Tennessee has taken care of the unranked teams on the schedule without trouble. Ranked teams have been another story. However Kentucky is not a ranked team, although it does have a rank defense.
The best chance Kentucky has of beating Tennessee is to catch the Vols looking ahead. Unfortunately, for Rich Brooks and company, the Vols come at the end of the schedule and they need a win to get a bowl bid beyond the borders of the Volunteer State.
Tennessee's defense isn't dominating but the Vols have enough speed and talent to bag these Cats.