The stakes are at an all-time high on Rocky Top as Jeremy Pruitt’s Volunteers are preparing for battle yet again. As the Big Orange prepare to make the trip to Lexington to tangle with Big Blue, many point out that coaching rumors could serve as a major distraction for the Cats. Will Tennessee be able to get their first road win of the season? Will Kentucky receive their 3rd victory over Tennessee in the last 34 years? Would a victory all but seal the deal for a Volunteer bowl bid? We tackle all of those questions and many more in this week’s Volunteer Roadshow Preview.
The implications for this game are huge on both sides. While it is widely known that Tennessee (4-5) is fighting for their first bowl birth since 2016, Kentucky (4-4) is in the same boat as they look to retain the appearance of a stable and competent program while facing massive losses from last season on both sides of the ball.
The Volunteers must win 2 of their remaining 3 match-ups against Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt to pass the 6 win threshold required to earn the right to play in a bowl game. Since their games with Kentucky and Missouri are both on the road, their match-up this week with Big Blue is monumental as Memorial Stadium has been a house of horrors for Tennessee since they joined the SEC back in 2012. If the Vols can take care of business vs the Wildcats on the road, it will take a massive weight off of their back as they travel to Columbia.
Quarterback play could be sloppy in this one as both teams are struggling at the position. The Wildcats are expected to start Lynn Bowden Jr. at quarterback while the Vols starter remains completely unknown.
If you’re a Volunteer fan that may sound familiar, because it is. You may remember in 2011 when Kentucky broke the Volunteers 25 game winning streak, they played Matt Roark, a wide receiver, at the quarterback position. If you don’t know much about Bowden, we’ll catch you up as quickly as possible. Bowden is NOT a big threat throwing the football, his mobility is the problem that many teams face when going against him. While Jeremy Pruitt has an excellent track record with stopping one-dimensional offenses, it is hard to imagine that Bowden won’t break loose once or twice for the Cats on Saturday, which could frustrate Tennessee’s defense.
As for Tennessee, the simple answer is we have no clue who they’ll start at quarterback. Will it be Brian Maurer, who missed the last 2 games following suffering back to back head injuries and traveling to Vanderbilt University Medical Center a week ago? Or maybe it could be J.T. Shrout, a rising star who has the best arm on the team. It’s also possible that Jeremy Pruitt will be conservative and go with upperclassman, Jarrett Guarantano since it is almost certain to be a low scoring affair. For what it’s worth Maurer has been working with the 1st string all week, but the simple truth is we have no idea who will get the start on Saturday Night.
The distractions that Kentucky is facing may also play a role in the game. Ever since Florida State terminated Willie Taggart, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops’ name has been tossed around as a potential candidate for the vacancy. As past situations will show you, this serves as a major disadvantage for the team involved and Stoops’ involvement in the opening may play right into the hands of Tennessee.
While Stoops declined to comment on the Florida State rumors, his lack of denial has flustered the Kentucky faithful and possibly the team as well. We’ll find out how Stoops’ squad reacts on Saturday.
This game will be a low scoring defensive battle in which the winning team will be forced to establish the run game. The team that does that will win, and with Tennessee’s defense finally starting to be what they were supposed to be, I can’t pick Kentucky to do that. Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Eric Gray will need to capitalize as much as possible when the Wildcat’s defense make mistakes, and when Tennessee throws the ball they can’t afford to roll the dice with dumb and risky decisions,
The other, and main, reason I am picking Tennessee to be victorious is because of Jeremy Pruitt’s track record with one-dimensional offenses. I published a story this time last year in which I predicted the Vols to defeat the top 15 ranked Wildcats. My reasoning for this was that I believed Jeremy Pruitt would be able to shutdown Benny Snell, thus shutting down the Wildcats offense. I think this will repeat this year, UT will shut down UK’s run-game and completely shut down their ability to put points on the board.