Saturday night’s rivalry meeting will put the winner one victory from the six-win threshold.
Both teams have momentum. The visiting Vols (4-5, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) have won three of their past four; the Wildcats (4-4, 2-4) come out of a bye having won two of their last three.
Kentucky plays three of its final four games at home, which helps its postseason prospects. But coach Mark Stoops believes that scenario will take care of itself if players stay focused on the present.
“We’re worried about going 1-0, that is the big message for us,” Stoops said this week. “The six games or anything, we don’t even really acknowledge that. We want to win a lot more than six.”
The stinging memory of last year’s 24-7 loss to the Vols in Knoxville should provide incentive. The Wildcats were ranked 11th at the time, but the Vols held them to 77 rushing yards.
They know they can’t afford a repeat performance.
“Miscues, any problem you have, we had in that game,” nose guard Quinton Bohanna recalled. “That gives us extra motivation to go out there and do what we’ve got to do this week.”
Tennessee enters Saturday on another stingy roll. The Vols have yielded just 141 yards on 55 carries in consecutive wins over South Carolina and UAB, a 2.6-yard average.
Tennessee is just a game under the .500 mark, which seemed as unlikely as discussing a possible bowl bid a few weeks ago.
“It shows that we care about what we’re doing here,” Vols receiver Jauan Jennings said. “We’re not just worried about winning each and every week. We’re worried about winning as a team. That’s shown these past couple of weeks. We can’t wait for this weekend to go earn another W as a whole team.”
Some other things to watch Saturday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network):
ACCOUNTING FOR BOWDEN
Though Kentucky lists versatile junior Lynn Bowden and Sawyer Smith at quarterback, the mobile Bowden appears to be the likely choice to start. He has rushed for 499 yards the past three games but can also throw, creating a huge defensive challenge for Tennessee.
“Him playing quarterback shows his versatility and creates all kinds of opportunities for them in the run game,” Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “At any point in time in the throw game, he can pull the ball down and run for 50 yards. It stretches you all over the field.”
TAYLOR ON A TEAR
Tennessee outside linebacker Darrell Taylor has recorded five sacks over his last four games. He has six sacks this season to match the highest total of any SEC player, though Alabama’s Terrell Lewis (.86) has collected more per game.
Taylor had a career-high four sacks last season against Kentucky.
Vols kicker Brent Cimaglia has made 18 of 20 field-goal attempts this season. He made all three kicks against UAB last week, including a 53-yarder that marked Tennessee’s longest field goal since Jeff Hall also connected from 53 yards against Oklahoma State in 1995.
Kentucky has held its past three SEC opponents to 305 yards or fewer, the first time it has done so since 1979. That stretch has included seven sacks, five forced fumbles and two recoveries.
Tennessee leads 80-25-9, including 37-15-3 in Lexington. Kentucky seeks its second win in three years but has won just twice in the past eight meetings.