Jimmy’s blog: Run game, stopping run crucial for UT against Kentucky

By Jimmy Hyams 

Tennessee has had its way in the series with Kentucky. 

Since 1985, Kentucky has two wins over the Vols. It’s been that one-sided. But last year, it was a nail-biter as the Vols had to make a goal-line stand to hold on 17-13 despite allowing 302 rushing yards to a wide receiver playing quarterback. 

Tennessee is coming off a disappointing 44-21 loss at Georgia. 

Kentucky is coming off a 24-2 win against Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense. 

Kickoff is set for noon on the SEC Network. 

Here are five keys to the game: 

  1. Tennessee’s offensive line must regroup. The Vols five-star studded line was overwhelmed by Georgia, rushing for minus-1 yard on 27 carries (40 lost yards coming on sacks). UT’s two running backs had 16 carries for 36 yards. That’s not good enough – even though Georgia appears to have by far the best defense in the SEC. UT was outrushed 302-83 last year at Kentucky yet still found a way to win. UT must come within 50 rushing yards of Kentucky or run the risk of losing. UT also ranks 69 in pass protection of the 76 teams that have played this year, per Pro Football Focus.  
  2. Tennessee must contain the run game and make QB Terry Wilson throw. Wilson was 8×21 for 73 yards against Mississippi State and he does not consistently provide the balance the Wildcats want. Coach Mark Stoops has hinted that if Wilson struggles, Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood might see action. Gatewood is a gifted athlete who appears to be a better passer than Wilson. 
  3. Don’t be feel fooled by Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran (former UT running backs coach). Gran did a terrific job last year helping Kentucky win eight games with Lynn Bowden (converted wideout) at quarterback. Pruitt says Gran does a great job of ``creating a lot of multiples’ and having a ``triple option flavor’ to the run game. Pruitt also said Gran “stretches you all over the field.’’ UT can’t get caught out of position and yield explosive plays.
  4.  Tackling. Pruit lamented the fact Georgia gained too many yards after contact. Kentucky’s running backs and Wilson are capable of breaking tackles.  UK rushed for an astounding 400 yards against Ole Miss, with three players rushing for over 100.
  5. Third-down efficiency. That goes for offense and defense. UT was 4×17 on third downs against Georgia, 1×11 on third downs against South Carolina. That won’t cut it. Conversely, UT has been poor on third-down defense: Georgia was 8×16. “We’ve got to be able to get off the field on third down,’’ Pruitt said. “It’s been a very disappointing year so far.’’ 

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