EVEN STEVEN: A quick look at key statistics for each team this season reveals just how evenly matched Tennessee and Kentucky are. Both teams have a 7-4 record. Tennessee is averaging 18.5 first downs a game while Kentucky is averaging 18.4 first downs. Tennessee is averaging 361.4 total yards per game compared to Kentucky's 363.4. UT is rushing for 159.7 yards per game and passing for 201.6. Kentucky is rushing for 153.9 yards per game and passing for 209.5. Each team is averaging 23.7 yards per kickoff return. Tennessee has a plus 0.18 turnover ratio per contest Kentucky has a plus 0.73. Tennessee is averaging 42.2 yards per punt, Kentucky is averaging 44.0 yards per punt. The Vols time of possession is 31:52 per game compared to Cats' 29:12. UT is converting third downs at a 38.1 clip, UK is converting at a 39.4 average. Alex Walls has hit 10-of-13 field goals this season compared to Taylor Begley 9-of-13. Pinner has 1,363 yards with 13 touchdowns and a 5.0 yard per carry average. Tennessee's one-two punch of Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis have combined to gain 1,222 yards scoring 15 touchdowns and averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
GLARING DIFFERENCES: There are significant differences between the strengths of each squad and that is where the battle lines will be drawn for Saturday's showdown. Kentucky is averaging 35.0 points per game while Tennessee is averaging 24.5. Conversely, Tennessee is allowing only 17.9 points per game while Kentucky is surrendering 25.2 points per game. Moreover, Kentucky is giving up 407.7 yards per game compared to Tennessee's 296.1. A low-scoring game should favor the Vols while Kentucky would like to take its chances in a shootout like last season's 35-31 classic. Kentucky is particularly vulnerable in the secondary, giving up 231.6 yards per game. The question is: Do the Vols have the weapons to exploit that weakness with Clausen significantly less than 100 percent and no primary threat at wide receiver yet to emerge?
INTANGIBLES: Kentucky has lost 17 straight to their archrival and would rather win Saturday's contest than any on its schedule. The Wildcats started the season 4-0, but have only gone 3-4 over their last seven contests. The off week should help the Cats come out fresh and frisky. Early success will help light Kentucky's competitive fire and any big breaks on special teams should favor the Wildcats who have a league-leading seven blocked kicks this season including: three punts, two field goals and two extra points. Abney adds another threat that will severely test UT's special teams. Add it up and Tennessee can't afford any letdowns in any phase of the game. How will the Vols hold up under that pressure? Tennessee will want to send 20 seniors out in style and the emotion of playing their final game at Neyland Stadium should provide a lift. If the crowd gets in the game early and stays late, Tennessee should have a slight edge in the intangible category. The Vols should also have ample incentive to make amends for three one-sided home defeats suffered at home this season.
KEYS: With injuries reducing Tennessee's available defensive backs, the Vols will need to get pressure on Lorenzen or run the risk of leaving an inexperienced secondary exposed to big plays. On offense, Tennessee will need to establish the run to set up the pass, but if Kentucky sells out to the run the Vols have to make them pay through the air. If UT can loosen the defense and take advantage of its superior line play, it should be able to control the ball, the clock and field possession. Tennessee has to also take care of the football. Turnovers allowed both Florida and Alabama to jump out to big early leads and post decisive victories.
SUMMARY: Tennessee has put together three conference wins in a row, but all of those victories have been on the road against teams with one-dimensional offenses. Kentucky will pose a greater challenge given the presence of Lorenzen, Pinner and Abney. Kentucky has recorded big wins at Louisville, at Arkansas and at Starkville, so they should be up to the challenge of playing in Knoxville. The Vols appear to have gained their focus, some identity on offense and a measure of confidence by surviving a season filled with adversity. The feeling here is that there is enough left in the tank to post win No. 8, but it won' be easy.
PREDICTION: Tennessee 27, Kentucky 24.