Welcome back to VFL Insider’s weekly “Who Has the Edge” column where we take a look at position groups and give the advantage to either Tennessee or their opponent that week.
Oh? This column didn’t happen last week? Folks, it was Alabama week. You would have figured it out before you even clicked on the link. That said, it is Kentucky week and there are actual debatable topics for this game! Let’s get to it.
Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano continues to grow as each game progresses. After the beating he took from Alabama’s front seven, he needs his offensive line to step up and give him some time to find an open receiver. Speaking of open receivers, the Tennessee wideouts need to learn how to separate from their defender so they have a chance to make a play.
Guarantano is struggling completing passes longer than 10 yards, so look for Tennessee to give him some high percentage throws underneath to build his confidence. With John Kelly suspended, the young signal caller won’t have his best weapon to fall back on if things get rough.
Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson has been a pleasant surprise for the Wildcats this season. He’s completed 61% of his passes for 1355 yards with 9 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He also has some play making ability with his legs, averaging 3.7 yards on the ground for a total of 198 yards. The Wildcats will live and die with how Johnson plays, so if he is given time and makes smart throws, the Vols will be in trouble.
125 carries, 615 yards, 6 touchdowns. 26 catches for 255 yards. Those are the season totals for suspended Tennessee running back John Kelly.
45 carries, 228 yards, 2 touchdowns. 10 catches, 84 yards. Those are the combined season totals for Ty Chandler, Carlin Fils-Aime, and Tim Jordan. Those three will be called upon to fill Kelly’s shoes following his suspension for a drug citation earlier this week.
Meanwhile Benny Snell Jr will be getting the bulk of the carries for Kentucky with some help from Sihiem King. They average 4.1 and 4.8 yards per carry, respectively. Neither is very active in the passing game so the Vol linebackers can rest easy in regards to worrying about them releasing from the backfield. If John Kelly was playing, this would be a no brainer, however, he made a poor decision and has to live with the consequences.
Wide Receivers vs Defensive Backs
This isn’t a broken record, we promise. Tennessee’s wide receivers make plays with the ball in their hand, but they have to get open and Guarantano has to have time to get it to them.
Tyler Byrd is nonexistent despite Butch Jones’ claims to get him more involved in the offense. Brandon Johnson has emerged as the top guy as Marquez Callaway constantly facing double coverage due to his ability to make a big play.
Tennessee’s secondary is constantly changing whether it be due to injury or poor play. Shawn Shamburger burst onto the scene against Alabama, making several key plays, but still had some freshman mistakes. Kentucky is averaging 12.3 yards per catch to Tennessee’s 10.7. Kentucky is giving up around 270 yards a game through the air. Tennessee has the talent, they just need get open and make it happen.
Offensive Line vs Defensive Line
As mentioned earlier, Tennessee’s offensive line has to give Guarantano time. More importantly, they need to open some holes for the running backs to run through as it is unseen at this point if they have Kelly’s ability to that tackle on first contact.
Josh Allen leads the Wildcats with 6.5 sacks and he’ll be looking to add to that total facing off against a young quarterback. Tennessee’s best lineman Darrell Taylor is still suspended, so Jonathan Kongbo needs to live up to the hype and watch himself when it comes to penalties. Two hands-to-the-face calls hurt the Vols last week against Alabama. Tennessee’s inconsistent line and Kentucky’s strong runners might spell trouble for the Vols.
In case you have been living under a rock, the past few weeks we have been Periscoping WWE 2K wrestling matches between Butch Jones and the coach of the opposing team that week. Coming into this week, Jones was 0-3 which is what happened in real life. However, Jones got the pin on Stoops Wednesday night, giving him his first WWE win this season. Will real life mirror a video game?
A bloodied Butch Jones beats Mark Stoops in WWE 2K moving him to 1-3 since I started this. Will it translate to the real game? pic.twitter.com/D7OuUEhjbF
— Andrew Darago (@AWDarago) October 26, 2017
Butch Jones is coaching for his job. Mark Stoops is coaching for bowl eligibility. In recent years, Kentucky has opened strong with a soft schedule and then it gets tougher in mid-season. They tend to fall off the map and are fighting for the bowl game every week until season’s end.
Both teams are coming off 38 point losses. It will be interesting to see how each team responds as Tennessee is hoping they can start a winning streak while Kentucky is has their eyes on winning the East. Jones said this week he has no plans to change play calling or the offense that hasn’t found the endzone in over a month. He will also be without his best offensive player with Kelly’s suspension. Jones’ stubbornness may end up costing him this one.
Kentucky opened up at 5.5 favorites over the Vols, the first time in forever. Vegas knows. Vegas knows.