Tennessee is looking to shake off its first loss of the season as they prepare for Saturday’s matchup with Kentucky. One of Tennessee’s few strengths Saturday was the Vols’ run defense. The run defense will receive another challenge with a Kentucky team that runs it as well as anyone in the SEC.
Kentucky’s offensive identity is based in its run game behind one of the conference’s best offensive lines. The Wildcats have the third most carries in the SEC so far this season, while ranking first in rushing yards and second in yards per carry.
“Although they have a good running back who has racked up a lot of yards in his career, they also have a quarterback, just like last year, who can run the ball,” Tennessee defensive lineman Matthew Butler said. “He’s fast, athletic and can run the ball and pass the ball. In some ways, we’ll take the same approach we did last year as a defensive line, being able to plug those interior gaps, get off blocks, set the edge and keep contain. Be ready to run for sure.”
A year ago, it was all purpose star Lynn Bowden Jr. running Kentucky’s offense after Terry Wilson was injured. Now, Wilson is back but Kentucky’s offense looks very similar.
Wilson leads the Wildcats in nearly every rushing stat. The dual threat quarterback has run for 221 yards and three touchdowns on a team high 48 carries. Wilson’s three rushing touchdowns makes him tied with Christopher Rodriguez Jr.
“It might affect a little bit of personnel,” Butler said of the challenge of preparing for a dual threat quarterback. “You might have a couple of checks here and there, but having a run oriented quarterback or having a run first offense os kond of one in the same as your approach going into the week.”
Bowden is joined in the backfield by Rodriguez and Asim Rose who have split carries so far this season. Rodriguez has recorded 184 yards on 34 carries while Rose has tallied 170 yards on 30 carries.
While they don’t throw it much, Kentucky likes to get Rose involved in the passing game when they do. The senior from Ohio ranks third on the team with five catches.
A year ago, Kentucky ran it 64 times compared to just seven passes with Bowden at quarterback. The WIldcats were able to dominate time of possession and run for 302 yards, but Tennessee was able to hunker down on its own side of the field, holding Kentucky to 13 points in the win.
“Last year we were able to get a few sacks against a run heavy team, so that’s awesome,” Butler said. “We also stopped the run well enough to win the game. This year we want to compound on that. We want to stop the run even better though they have some different personnel and different guys.”
Butler played well against Kentucky a season ago, recording a defensive line high five tackles and a sack.
“We did some good things,” Butler said. “Obviously it ended in a really big goal line stop. I myself played a pretty decent game. I had a penalty though and I have to take responsibility for that. … As a whole defense I thought we played together, ran after the ball, limited our mistakes and we were going against a really good athlete (Lynn Bowden).”
Kickoff Saturday is set for noon ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.