KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee and Kentucky play one another on Saturday with both teams holding hopes for the SEC East Division crown, and when was the last time anyone could say that?
The Wildcats (5-4, 4-3) are looking for their first winning record in SEC play since 1977 — 15 years before the league was split into two divisions and Arkansas and South Carolina were added as member institutions.
But enough of the history, because Saturday’s noon game at Neyland Stadium holds plenty of intrigue in and of itself.
Here’s a five things to keep an eye on where Tennessee’s game with Kentucky is concerned:
Butch Jones said “We all know what’s at stake,” and quarterback Josh Dobbs said “All we can do is control what we can control, and go 1-0 every week these next three weeks.”
UT is 6-3 for the first time since 2007, when first-ballot College Football Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer led the Vols to their most recent SEC Championship Game appearance.
So all UT needs to do to win the SEC East is beat Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt AND hope Florida loses at home to South Carolina on Saturday or at LSU on Nov. 19.
Last year marked the first time UT swept those three teams since the Tigers started play in the SEC in 2012.
Specifically, the “Wildcat” formation, has been a key for Kentucky in wins over Missouri and Mississippi State, and it had success against Georgia.
“We’ve got to keep it simple, (and) allow our guys to get their cleats in the ground and recognize formations,” Shoop said.
The Vols’ lack of depth at defensive tackle is disconcerting, as that area of the field will be key in defending Kentucky’s Wildcat formation attack.
The week started with Mike DeBord being asked if he planned to implement the I-Formation with John Kelly, but it is expected to finish with Alvin Kamara returning from an knee injury.
It remains to be seen how Kamara will be used now that Kelly has seemingly taken hold of the starting tailback spot in the backfield.
Josh Dobbs indicated on Tuesday that fans have already seen a sample of the potential.
“It will be exciting, we saw what they can do together in the Texas A&M game,” Dobbs said. “We’ve seen what Alvin could do the past couple years, and now JK is emerging. It’s exciting to see (Kamara) back on the field running around practicing.”
Jonathan Kongbo breakout?
The nation’s No. 1-rated junior college transfer has also been the SEC’s No. 1 recruiting bust, yet to make a tackle in any of the Vols’ five league games getting snaps as a back-up defensive end.
Moving inside, the 6-foot-6, 284-pound Kongbo could be a difference maker.
Junior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers explained what it takes to be successful playing inside.
“I think the three-technique (Defensive tackle) has to be some of the toughest guys on the team, your technique has to be on point every time, you have to stay low and defend double teams, you have 600 pounds on you, that’s how it is,” Vickers said. “We talked to (Kongbo) about helping us at the D-Tackle spot and he’s taken it and run with it.”
Tennessee can win out and still not win the SEC East Division if the Florida Gators manage to beat both South Carolina at home this Saturday (noon, CBS) and LSU on the road on Nov. 19 (1 p.m.).
Florida beat the Gamecocks last season, 24-14, but it has dropped four of its past six games against South Carolina dating back to 2010.
The Gamecocks have won on two of their past three games in The Swamp: 23-20 in overtime in 2014, and 36-14 in 2010.
LSU, which is Florida’s annual SEC West opponent, has also been a handful.
The Bayou Bengals have won the past three meetings against the Gators and five of the last six.