Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Complete Game Preview

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2014

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Complete Game Preview

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    One thing that has grown to be counted on every November is Tennessee beating Kentucky in college football.

    That's happened in 28 of the past 29 years.

    No matter how bad the Volunteers have been recently (other than 2011, when UK beat the Vols with a receiver at quarterback), they've always handled their neighbors to the north. 

    This year, that isn't going to be as easy. UK second-year coach Mark Stoops has his team on the cusp of bowl eligibility. The Wildcats need to beat either the Vols or Louisville to get into the postseason.

    The Vols, on the other hand, need to beat two of their final three opponents: Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has breathed new life into a stagnant offense, and UT is coming off an overtime upset of South Carolina.

    After a much-needed bye week, the Vols should be fresher on both sides of the ball, which will help in a particularly thin defense. This game has major ramifications for both rebuilding programs.

    Here's everything you need to know about the rivalry that used to be known as the "Battle for the Beer Barrel."

    Date: Saturday, Nov. 15

    Time: 4 p.m. ET

    Place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee

    TV: SEC Network

    Radio: Vol Network, Kentucky IMG Sports Network

    Spread: Tennessee by 7.5 points, according to Oddsshark.com.

Tennessee Keys to Victory

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    Unleash 'AstroDobbs'

    There's no denying the impact sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs has had on Tennessee's offense since he burst onto the scene against Alabama.

    After going for 267 total yards and two scores against the Crimson Tide, he put the Vols on his shoulders against South Carolina in a 467-yard performance that featured five touchdowns. His performance propelled UT to a comeback upset overtime victory.

    Now, everybody is wondering where he came from and when the young man affectionately known as "Astro" because of his aerospace engineering studies will come back down to Earth. UT hopes that doesn't happen anytime soon.

    The Vols must protect him, and Dobbs has to keep being smart in limiting the hits he takes and knowing when to run and when to throw it away. He plays fearlessly, which is something you can't teach. UT needs that down the stretch.

    Pound the Ground

    Tennessee has struggled to run the football for much of the season, but the emergence of Dobbs has opened things up in that facet of the game. 

    Playing against a porous South Carolina defense, the Vols broke out. Now, after a week of rest, they get to play Kentucky—the SEC's second-worst rush defense, allowing nearly 200 yards per game on the ground.

    Freshman Jalen Hurd is emerging at the right time and still has an outside shot at 1,000 rushing yards, but he needs a big game against Kentucky. He also needs some help, but it looks like senior Marlin Lane, who injured his ankle against Carolina, could be back.

    The Daily Beacon's Taylor White reported Lane resumed practice last week. This is a major opportunity for UT to rack up some yardage and have a balanced offensive attack.

    Ride the Bye

    If it wasn't obvious on the scoreboard, it was certainly evident in the way the Vols' defenders simply couldn't catch up the past three games.

    They were exhausted, and they needed to regroup before the final run, coordinator John Jancek told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown:

    I would say that's pretty fair. We do, we needed a break. We went on a six-week stretch there of playing some really good football teams. Our guys battled hard each and every week. I know they'll never admit it, but I think the bye week really comes at a good time for us.

    Now that they've acknowledged it, the rest needs to make a difference, on the field and on the scoreboard.

Kentucky Keys to Victory

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    Respond to Steaming Stoops

    Needing one win to become bowl-eligible and playing against perhaps the class of the SEC East at home, Kentucky had a major opportunity against Georgia.

    Instead, they were pummeled 63-31 and looked a far cry from the team it was at the start of the season. Coach Mark Stoops was angry afterward, according to The Herald-Leader's Jennifer Smith:

    "Not acceptable," he said. "Just very disappointed in the way we played, the way we're playing. Like I said, embarrassing is the word that comes to mind."

    Now, the Cats close the season with their two biggest rivals, and they should come to Neyland fired up. Then again, they should have been this week, too.

    Help Towles

    Redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles is an emerging star in the SEC who is the conference's best NFL prospect at the most important position.

    He is huge with a cannon for an arm and enough mobility that he looks a little bit like Aaron Rodgers Lite out there. "Patty Ice" had his career game against Mississippi State, and he has risen to the occasion more often than not all year.

    Quarterbacks Blake Sims and Dylan Thompson had field days against the Vols, and now UT must face Towles and Maty Mauk the next two weeks. Both are players who can beat you with their arm or legs. If UK can muster some rushing attack and make some plays downfield, Towles is talented enough to pull the upset.

    Tennessee Turnover

    An element to Joshua Dobbs' game that hasn't manifested itself yet is last year's propensity to turn the football over.

    He's making better decisions, but UK's defense is full of young athletes who may not always know what they're doing, but they can put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks.

    If they force a couple of early miscues and put up some quick points, a first-half lead will make things extremely interesting. The Cats are fifth in sacks and third in interceptions, so they've got to add to that total against UT. 

Tennessee Players to Watch

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    Pig Howard

    For much of the offseason, it was unclear whether junior receiver Alton "Pig" Howard would even be part of Tennessee's football team.

    Now, he's quietly the Vols' leading receiver nine games into the season. He has 35 catches for 401 yards and a touchdown and has added 64 more rushing yards and a couple of scores on the ground.

    After going through some maturity issues off the field, he's grown up on it. He had five grabs for 109 yards and added a rushing score in the win over South Carolina, and he's coming alive at the right time.

    If he plays at a high level as a consistent force and Marquez North and Von Pearson make some big plays, UT's passing offense can be dynamic.

    Curt Maggitt

    Great things were expected of the junior defensive end entering the season, but after not playing for more than a year, it took Maggitt a while to get re-acclimated.

    It's safe to say he's comfortable now. He's seventh on the team in tackles, has nine tackles for a loss and six sacks. Three of those sacks have come in the past two games, including one of the game's biggest plays when he brought down Dylan Thompson in overtime.

    Maggitt is playing at an extremely high level and looks like he's gotten his career back on the trajectory it was heading in before he tore his ACL. The Vols need a big game from him pressuring Patrick Towles.

    Jacob Gilliam

    Perhaps it's coincidental that the past two games since Gilliam has returned to play on his torn ACL and started, the Vols offensive line has played much better.

    After all, his return coincides with Joshua Dobbs' taking over the offense.

    But Gilliam has played well, and his emergence has enabled the Vols to leave freshmen Coleman Thomas and Brett Kendrick on the sideline as they develop. When Kendrick has gotten in games, he's played better.

    Gilliam is one to watch because it's simply remarkable what he's doing, playing on the torn ACL just weeks after injuring it. Couple that with the high level at which he's playing, and it's impressive.

Kentucky Players to Watch

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    Ryan Timmons

    Tennessee's defense has been scorched by receivers in each of its past two games—Alabama's Amari Cooper and South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper.

    Thankfully for UT, Timmons isn't a Cooper. But he's still a darn good receiver. The sophomore was one of Mark Stoops' first key recruits, and he has 41 catches for 508 yards and two scores this year.

    Timmons is Patrick Towles' top target, and he will see a heavy dosage of Cameron Sutton in this game. The Vols need to blanket him and keep him from beating UT downfield. If they neutralize the big play, it'll be tough for the Cats to win. Timmons is the home run guy.

    Stanley Williams

    On their surface, Williams' statistics don't look all that impressive. The freshman from Monroe, Georgia, has just 361 yards and three touchdowns.

    Considering he's battled injuries much of the season, though, a closer look will show you he's averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Against Georgia, he gained 100 yards on just 10 carries. He also averaged 27 yards on five kickoff returns.

    He's nicknamed "Boom," and he lowered it in a loss to Georgia. Now that he's healthy, Williams is a serious threat to the Vols. They've got to focus on hemming him in.

    Bud Dupree

    Kentucky always has an unsung star on defense who doesn't get the headlines like other SEC defenders. Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan and Avery Williamson all come to mind.

    This year, that player is senior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree. The senior defensive end will definitely be on an NFL roster next year, and he is currently eighth in the league with 5.5 sacks and 11th with 8.5 tackles for a loss.

    Tennessee getting a bye week should help its offensive line, but the Vols aren't completely well there. They're still susceptible to giving up sacks. Dupree is the kind of player who can feast on those issues.

What They're Saying

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    Tennessee has gained national attention by altering Lil' Jon's "Turn Down for What" into an anthem played inside Neyland Stadium before every opponents' third down.

    Heck, "Third Down for What" is played more than "Rocky Top" these days.

    UT's take on the lyric has been embraced by the Atlanta-based hip-hop icon, and Lil' Jon was in Knoxville to DJ this weekend and dropped by UT football practice and the facilities.

    "Thank you to @LilJon for stopping by & spending sometime with #Team118! #3rdDownForWhat," UT coach Butch Jones tweeted.

    There was a lot of Twitter love coming from both parties after the visit.

    Patrick Towles didn't mince words when asked by The Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker about UK's 63-31 loss to Georgia this past weekend:

    "Anytime you get your ass kicked, it's embarrassing. None of us came here to lose like that. You've got to fill the balloon back up and go out and play."

    Towles (like pretty much everybody else on the Wildcats roster) struggled, completing 16 of 31 passes for 139 yards and a meaningless touchdown.

    Just how great was Joshua Dobbs' performance against South Carolina? GoVols247's Ryan Callahan put it into perspective:

    Tennessee sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs' record-setting performance last week at South Carolina made him just the third SEC quarterback in the past 15 years to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game.

    According to the SEC Network, Dobbs joined former Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow of Florida and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M as the third SEC quarterback to accomplish the feat in the past 15 years. Tebow threw for 300 yards and rushed for 100 yards once in 2007, while Manziel did it in four separate games during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Prediction

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    Kentucky is going to come into this game poised and prepared. They've got a quarterback who'll play on the next level, an exciting young running back and a bunch of young, talented players on defense.

    Mark Stoops was a brilliant hire whose fingerprints are all over the improvement of this program.

    But UT coach Butch Jones' program is trending, too. That win over South Carolina had some special elements in the comeback that fostered hope, not only throughout the fanbase but in the locker room.

    UT believed it could win the football game. Then, it went out and did it.

    That is the kind of victory under the kind of circumstances that can jump-start a rebuild. Now, the Vols must win two of their last three to go to a bowl. Anything less, and the season is shot.

    Given that Missouri is 7-2 (no matter how unimpressive it has looked at times), that game is anything but a given. The Vols are more than a touchdown favorite at home in this game. They're expected to win, and they need to win. Getting this one gives UT a great chance to get to the postseason.

    The last time UT faced a scenario like this in Neyland Stadium, the Vols fell flat against Vanderbilt last year. That won't happen again. They'll take care of business.

    Prediction: Vols 34, Cats 23

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