With coach Butch Jones literally fighting to keep his job and an anemic offense without its best weapon, Tennessee continues SEC road play Saturday as the Vols head to Lexington to take on Kentucky at Kroger Field. The game will kick off at 7:39 p.m. on the SEC Network
Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC) is coming off a 45-7 loss at No.
1 Alabama. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano completed 9 of 16 passes for 44 yards and the Vols totaled only 64 rushing yards in the lopsided defeat.
Freshman cornerback Shawn Shamburger had a breakout game on defense, posting a career-high 12 tackles and one sack and linebacker Daniel Bituli scored the Vols’ only touchdown on a 97-yard interception return.
Tennessee’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown since the second quarter of the UMass game on Sept. 23.
Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 SEC) suffered a 45-7 road loss against Mississippi State last week. Senior quarterback Stephen Johnson went 13-for-28 for 117 yards with two interceptions. The Wildcats weren’t particularly effective on offense either, managing 115 rushing yards against the Bulldogs.
The Vols will be without running back John Kelly, who along with freshman linebacker Will Ignont, was suspended for the Kentucky game after a drug stop near campus on Tuesday night. Kelly is the team's leading rusher and ranks No. 5 in the conference.
Tennessee has lost four of its last five games and all four conference games. The Vols are off to an 0-4 start in league play for the second time in Jones' five seasons. The heat is on athletic director John Currie to make a decision on Jones' status to avert serious damage to the Vols' recruiting class. Tennessee has lost five commitments.
Tennessee and Kentucky will meet for the 113th time on Saturday. The Vols are 79-24-9 all-time against the Wildcats and hold a 37-14-3 against UK when the game is played in Lexington.
UT has won the last five games of the series. In 2016, Tennessee took a 49-36 win in Knoxville thanks largely to a strong showing by quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who went 11-for-17 for 223 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 147 yards and two TDs on 14 carries.
The Vols are 31-1 in their last 32 games against Kentucky. UK last defeated Tennessee on Nov. 26, 2011, when the Wildcats took a 10-7 win in Lexington.
Freshman offensive lineman Trey Smith has lived up to the hype after coming to Rocky Top as the nation's No. 1-rated recruit in the 2017 class according to ESPN with a freshman All-American-caliber season this fall.
Smith has started all seven games this season at right guard and leads the Vols' offensive line with 30 knockdowns. He is the second-highest graded offensive lineman for the Vols behind preseasonAll-SEC senior Jashon Robertson.
Guarantano will make his third consecutive start against the Wildcats. The Lodi, New Jersey, native has completed 32 of 58 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Against No. 1 Alabama, Guarantano passed for 44 yards on 9-of-16 passing and rushed for 26 yards, but took four sacks for a loss of 34
Shamburger's 12 tackles were the most by a true freshman since Brian Randolph had 12 against Kentucky in 2011. His 12 tackles were also the most by a Vol in an SEC game this season.
Late in the second quarter, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts completed a 34-yard pass to Irv Smith Jr. and Shamburger stripped the ball from Smith. The ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for an apparent touchback, but Jonathan Kongbo was called for illegal hands to the face, negating the turnover.
Shamburger has played in all seven games for the Vols this season and has 13 tackles.
Senior punter Trevor Daniel is a nominee for the Ray Guy Award and ranks second in the SEC and fourth nationally among FBS punters with an average of 47.7 yards per attempt.
Daniel leads the SEC and ranks second in the Power 6 with 18 punts inside the 20. He also has seven punts inside the 10.
His 45.7-yard average is the best in Tennessee history and ranks second among active NCAA punters, regardless of division.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)