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November 25, 2011

Game at a glance: Kentucky vs. Tennessee

TENNESSEE at KENTUCKY
Site: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky. (67,942)
Game time: 12:21 p.m.

Coaches: Joker Phillips, Kentucky (10-14 overall, second year at UK and overall, 0-1 against Tennessee), Derek Dooley, Tennessee (28-33, fifth season overall, 11-3 at Tennessee, second year, 1-0 against Kentucky)
Series history: Tennessee leads 74-23-9
Depth charts: Kentucky, Tennessee
TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network, XM 200, Sirius 218 (Sirius Premier package required), radio stream at UKathletics.com
Internet video stream: None

Last time
Derrick Locke put Kentucky on the board first with a 17-yard touchdown run and the Wildcats looked poised to take a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. But Locke fumbled the ball one yard from the goal line, and Tennessee fell on it in the end zone for a touchback. The Vols, led by freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, stormed back from there as he threw a pair of touchdown passes to take a 14-7 lead before halftime. The Wildcats added another touchdown just after halftime, but Tennessee scored 10 more points and Kentucky couldn't respond. Mike Hartline's pass was intercepted with 6:44 to go in the game, and Tennessee ran the clock out from there.

Kentucky will win if?
For all the talk about how much the UK offense has improved with Maxwell Smith at the helm, the Cats are still only averaging 270 yards per game since he became the quarterback. Morgan Newton averaged 260 yards as the starter. True, Newton padded those numbers against Kentucky's nonconference opponents, but the offense is still woefully behind where it needs to be.

Fortunately for Kentucky, the Volunteers don't have any pass rushers that are nearly as talented as what Georgia threw at them. Tennessee doesn't have a player with more than 2.5 sacks this year, though Malik Jackson does have 10 hurries. Smith was much more effective when he had time to find his receivers against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and he'll be hoping his line can provide that for him this week. He'll also hope that Matt Roark re-emerges as a consistent safety valve in the middle of the field who can gain yards after the catch.

The defense will do what it has done all year. Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy will play like their dreads are on fire in the final game of their career. If it was up to those two alone, Kentucky would run away with this one. But the Wildcats are banged up and the defense has been forced into difficult situations by the offense all season.

There's still one last chance for redemption. A win on Saturday would quiet a lot of rumblings around the program and, at the very least, mark one of the most significant wins in the last 10 years.

Tennessee will win if?
Tyler Bray torched Kentucky for 354 yards last year and even though he's missed five games this year with a broken thumb, he's still lethal. With Da'Rick Rogers lining up wide, he'll have a chance to pass for over 300 yards again. The 6-foot-3 sophomore has been caustic to defenses all year, with over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns despite having to play with the likes of Justin Worley and Matt Simms.

Tennessee's ground game really suffered when Bray went down and neither of the Vols' top two backs are averaging more than 3.8 yards per carry. Tauren Poole is still talented, though, and the Kentucky defense won't be able to forget about him. The Volunteers struggled mightily without their starting quarterback. They were 1-4 without him but he's 4-2 as a starter this year.

The Vols also have plenty of motivation. As badly as Kentucky's seniors want to be the class to end the streak, no player on Tennessee wants to have anything to do with a loss to Kentucky. They're also fighting for a bowl game and to keep pressure off their head coach. There's no reason to think Kentucky is going to play harder than Tennessee just because it's assured to be the final game of the season.

Tennessee has won games in every way possible during the streak. Blowout, heartbreakers, comebacks, overtime squeakers, and ho-hum two-touchdown affairs. They've done it with more talent than Kentucky, or equal talent, or better coaching, or dumb luck, or the favor of the football gods. A win on Saturday wouldn't be the strangest thing in the world for Kentucky, but Tennessee has the benefit of the doubt in this game until they show they no longer deserve it.

Cats Illustrated staff predictions:

Ben Jones, Staff Writer: Tennessee 31, Kentucky 13
It'll start off close, and neither team will want its season to end on Saturday. But after a few big plays from Bray to Rogers, the Wildcats will slowly realize that it's just a matter of time until the season is over. When that happens, it'll be tough to stay focused on the game. Seniors will start taking in their final moments on the Commonwealth Stadium sidelines while the Vols continue to attack. The final score won't be pretty, but the game will have been hard-fought and close until late.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: Tennessee 23, Kentucky 13
The football gods do funny things sometimes, and so cosmically, it might come as no surprise if this - Kentucky's worst football team in six years -is the team to finally snap that Tennessee winning streak. Practically, though, it seems unlikely. The Vols have more to play for (the streak is nice, but a bowl bid means more to this group of UT players), and with Tyler Bray at quarterback, Tennessee has more than enough firepower to keep the streak alive.

Steve Jones, Recruiting Editor: Kentucky 21, Tennessee 17
Here's predicting a redemption day at UK. The talent gap between these teams has not been wide enough recently to justify the Volunteers' continuation of their vaunted winning streak over the Cats, and UK is bound to win one at some point. Given the unique circumstances of this week - the final game (no bowl to follow) for UK's seniors, rumors swirling about the future of Phillips, a possible shot for Morgan Newton to make an important contribution - I think the Cats will come out united and highly motivated to buck history.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: Tennessee 31, Kentucky 13
With the Cats officially eliminated from post season contention, UK will treat rival Tennessee as its bowl game. And even though this might be one of the worst Tennessee teams in UK's 26 game losing streak, this UK team is worse. Tennessee will have Tyler Bray with a game under his belt after coming back from an injury and he shredded UK last season. UK's defense did everything it could to win the game for the Cats at Georgia and it'll have to do the same against the Vols, maybe more. UK's offense just hasn't progressed enough to score consistently and that's why the streak will continue.


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