Tennessee Football Three Keys: Kentucky

Three-keys-Tennessee

The Tennessee Volunteers have scored just 14 points in their last five quarters. Their offense has looked stagnant and stale. Their offensive line has underperformed and been outworked. They need a spark to rejuvenate their offense heading into the final leg of the regular season. 

By Matt Zemek

In other words, they’re pretty much in the same boat as the team they will play this Saturday.

The Kentucky Wildcats did score 17 points against the Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday, but most of those points were scored only after Georgia took a commanding lead. In previous weeks, Kentucky scored just 14 points against Vanderbilt and 15 points against Missouri and 14 against Texas A&M in an overtime game. In two of those three games, Kentucky scored just one offensive touchdown. It scored on a punt return against Mizzou and on a defensive touchdown against A&M.

This offense has been poor for most of the season. Tennessee is no worse on offense.

The defensive side of the ball is where Kentucky has the advantage… but if the Vols can exploit Kentucky’s limitations, they could still make this game a fight on Saturday.

1 – SNUFF OUT SNELL

The lunch-pail running of Benny Snell is Kentucky’s one formidable offensive component. The Wildcats can function well when Snell is eating up yards, chewing up clock, and putting quarterback Terry Wilson in second-and-manageable or third-and-short situations. As is the case with Florida and LSU, Kentucky does not have an offense in which the passing game can stand alone and carry the workload through a whole game. The running attack has to set up the passing game, or at the very least complement it.

Tennessee has to respond to that reality by placing an undeniable emphasis on taking away Snell and daring Wilson to make big plays in the passing game. This is not Alabama’s passing game which will step into Neyland Stadium. This is Kentucky’s. Tennessee will have to make special plays in this game… and they are more likely to come on defense than on offense. Baiting Wilson into throwing a huge interception is more likely to happen on third and 10 than on third and two. Smothering Snell on first and second down offers a reasonable path to success. Selling out against the run is not an unreasonable thing to do against Kentucky.

2 – SHORT GAME

Golfers refer to a short game as the collection of shots just off the green. Tennessee’s short game refers to screens, quick hitches, flat passes, slants, and other very simple quick-release throws which will reduce pressure on the Vols’ offensive line. Protecting that offensive line – reducing its level of responsibility – against Kentucky’s outstanding defense is something Jeremy Pruitt and his staff must try to achieve. Tennessee isn’t likely to get big plays against UK’s defense. Finding ways to get four or five yards with a quick pass or a screen could represent the best approach for the Vols, since it would be hard for Kentucky to collect many sacks against that kind of play selection.

3 – THIRD DOWN

Third down, on both sides, will be enormous in this game. You won’t see many big plays, so getting off the field (defense) or flipping field position (offense) will matter. Winning third downs fuels these goals.

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