By: RANDY MOORE
There's a reason big cats are the premier predators in the animal world. The lie in wait, looking to attack when their prey is at its weakest and most vulnerable.
If an injured antelope lags behind the herd, it is sure to be someone's entree. If a baby zebra wanders a few yards from the middle of the travel party, it will be some pride's appetizer. If an elderly giraffe can be isolated, it is likely to give‚ "long neck lunch‚" a whole new meaning.
With a modest 6-5 record, the Kentucky Wildcats hardly rank with lions, tigers and panthers on the predator scale. Still, they know all about attacking a prey when it is at its weakest and when it is most vulnerable. That's why the Cats can't wait for tonight's 6:30 kickoff against Tennessee in Neyland Stadium.
Are the Vols weak? You be the judge: They rank 105th nationally among the 119 NCAA teams in passing offense, 114th in scoring offense and 116 th in total offense.
Are the Vols vulnerable? They lost seven games for only the second time in program history. They cost their head coach his job. They dropped their Homecoming game to Wyoming. That's vulnerable with a capital V.
Again, the Kentucky Wildcats hardly quality as the king of the jungle. Heck, they've lost 23 consecutive games in this series. But the 2008 Cats at least proved they have a quarterback who can run and pass (Randall Cobb), whereas the 2008 Vols have yet to prove they have a quarterback who can do either.
Kentucky also has proved its offense can score more than one touchdown in a game, a feat the Tennessee offense has not managed to accomplish in any of the past four contests.
Some UT fans predict that Phil Fulmer's final game as coach will motivate the Big Orange to play its very best. Do they really think such a somber occasion is conducive to excellence? If that were the case, wouldn't you hear the best music played at funerals, instead of at parties?
As for Tennessee's perceived home-field advantage, where was it in the 13-9 defeat of Northern Illinois, the 29-9 drubbing at the hands of Alabama and the 13-7 debacle against Wyoming?
Clearly, the overriding factor in this game is not the emotional level of Fulmer's farewell or the decibel level of the home crowd. Ultimately, this game is about a predator ravaging a prey when it is most vulnerable.
And don't forget: These Cats have been lying in wait for 23 years.
THE CASE FOR THE VOLS
By: JEFFERY STEWART
History makes a case for Tennessee to defeat Kentucky today far beyond my poor power to add or subtract. After a team wins 23 in a row against an opponent you kind of expect it to happen when it comes to extending that streak to 24.
Sure you can say it has to come to an end eventually, but this year makes less sense than 2005 when the Vols were 4-6, the game was played in Lexington and the Vols were coming in off a last minute loss to Vanderbilt. Still they beat the Wildcats seven days later, 27-8, despite a quarterback controversy that raged throughout the year and eventually became a dividing point for the team.
That 2005 squad had lost five of its last six games going into the Kentucky contest. That lone victory was a 20-16 squeakier over Memphis. It had no confidence and was demoralized by close defeats to Alabama, 6-3, South Carolina, 16-15, and Vandy, 28-24.
But the Vols looked like a different team that day in Lexington with nothing on the line but pride. The team had been under pressure all year long and it was the first time that year they could go out and play their game free of the pressure that had been part of every contest as the Vols tried to avoid a losing season.
The Vols are faced with a similar situation today in terms of quarterback problems, a losing season assured and nothing on the line but pride in not being the first UT football team to lose eight games in a season.
It being Phillip Fulmer's last-game adds a dramatic element to this contest that will serve to keep the team focused and playing with a lot of energy. It's also the last game for 16 seniors who came in the 2004 and 2005 recruiting classes with high expectations and have endured ups and downs during their Tennessee playing careers. This is emotional fuel that may enable the Vols to play at a high level, especially after with the pressure off. Add the imminent official announcement of Lane Kifin as UT's new head coach and that should create a buzz among the fans. Add it up and you've got the ingredients of a one-for-the-Fulmer effort and a victory that will allow the team to carry their coach from the field whether literally or metaphorically.
Tennessee's defense can be dominating and routinely produces points and turnovers. The Vols offense is due but the running game showed it can be effective last week against a Vanderbilt defense that shut the Cats down in Lexington two weeks ago. In fact, the Vols beat the Commodores with just 25 yards passing.
So the Vols don't need a big offensive explosion to subdue Kentucky and keep the streak intact. They just need to let the emotions flow and play every down like it's their last because for many it is.