KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Kentucky’s dreams of a 10-win season and potential New Year’s Six bowl appearance likely depend on whether it can earn a rare road victory over Tennessee.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats (7-2, 5-2 SEC, No. 11 College Football Playoff) have lost 16 straight road games to the Volunteers and haven’t beaten Tennessee in Knoxville since 1984, but they head to Neyland Stadium on Saturday as six-point favorites.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he wouldn’t talk to his players about the program’s history of frustration at Neyland Stadium. Kentucky already ended another long streak earlier this season when it beat Florida 27-16 after losing to the Gators for 31 straight years.
“I think just beating Tennessee is important to us,” Stoops said. “Whether there’s a streak involved or not, why would that make a difference to our team, really? They don’t know anything about 34 years ago. (To) be honest with you, they really don’t care. They want to win for their team this year.”
Kentucky was bidding for its first Southeastern Conference championship game appearance in school history, but that hope died with a 34-17 loss to No. 5 Georgia (No. 5 CFP) last week. Kentucky still has a shot at earning its first 10-win season since 1977. The Wildcats follow up this trip to Tennessee by hosting Middle Tennessee and visiting Louisville.
Tennessee defensive end Kyle Phillips believes the nature of this rivalry will assure that Kentucky doesn’t have any emotional letdown over losing out on the SEC East title.
“They don’t like us a lot,” Phillips said. “They’re going to play their best game. They’re going to definitely come in and play their best game.”
Tennessee also has plenty at stake.
The Vols didn’t reach a bowl game last season and must win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible this year. Tennessee follows the Kentucky game by hosting Missouri and traveling to Vanderbilt.
Although Tennessee has won 31 of the last 33 overall meetings in this series, Kentucky won last year’s game 29-26 . The Wildcats haven’t beaten Tennessee in consecutive years since 1976-77.
Here are things to know about Tennessee’s matchup with Kentucky.
WATCH OUT FOR ALLEN
Kentucky’s Josh Allen has 10 sacks and 14 ½ tackles for loss to lead the SEC in both categories. He recovered two fumbles against Georgia last week. Allen will be facing an unsettled Tennessee offensive line that has struggled without left tackle Trey Smith, who is out indefinitely after doctors found blood clots in his lungs last month.
VOLS’ RUNNING WOES
Tennessee ran for just 20 yards on 26 carries last week in a 14-3 victory over Charlotte . The Vols are hoping leading rushers Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler will be able to play more this week after nagging injuries limited them to a combined six carries against Charlotte. They’re facing a Kentucky defense that has allowed just 15.3 points per game to rank eighth nationally in scoring defense .
KENTUCKY’S INJURED LINEBACKERS
Kentucky linebackers Kash Daniel and Jordan Jones are both playing with casts on one of their hands due to injuries. Daniel has 58 tackles to rank third on the team. Jones has 55 tackles, the Wildcats’ fifth-highest total.
“I’m sure it’s not comfortable for them,” Stoops said. “I will say this, they both did some very good things with those clubs on, and it kind of surprised me sometimes, some of the good plays they made. And there’s times when you could tell when not having the grip really hurts them.”
SNELL SEEKS ENCORE
Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr. has rushed for 1,008 yards to lead the SEC . He ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns in Kentucky’s victory over Tennessee last year.
Snell will face a Tennessee defense that is allowing 4.5 yards per carry . Vanderbilt and Mississippi are the only SEC teams yielding more yards per rush.
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has thrown only two interceptions all season. He has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns with no interceptions in his last four games.
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