KNOXVILLE – There’s enough quarterback narrative to go around when Tennessee and Kentucky meet on Saturday.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. The SEC Network has the telecast.
Tennessee’s situation behind center has been in flux since Jarrett Guarantano was replaced as starter following the fifth game. The Vols (4-5, 2-3 SEC) are the only team in the country this season to utilize four different starting quarterbacks and still win. Wide receiver Jauan Jennings has joined Guarantano, Brian Mauer and J.T. Shrout in taking the first snap.
As for Kentucky (4-4, 2-4), injuries to Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith have resulted in wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. taking over and the junior has flourished, particularly as a running threat. In three starts, he’s been named SEC Offensive player of the week twice. In the Wildcats’ last game, a 29-7 victory over Missouri on Oct. 26, Bowden ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
Bowden has attempted just 33 passes in his three starts but two of the games (at Georgia, Missouri) were played in pouring rain.
“It’s not like he’s a one-dimensional guy that doesn’t throw the ball and they’ve got playmakers on the outside,” UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said on Wednesday. “Obviously, you’ve got to be able to stop the run but you’ve got to eliminate explosive plays and kind of make them earn it.”
Vols linebacker Daniel Bituli said that Bowden’s running threat puts a greater premium on discipline and team play.
“When you play a quarterback as a running back, they can create extra gaps with their running backs,” he said. “Our safeties need to be involved, we really need to be strong with our gap control and keep the quarterback in the pocket because, at the end of the day, if he tries to get out on the perimeter, he has an extra running back trying to help him out and get that extra block.”
Finally, with respect to Tennessee, Pruitt said an alternate plan to replace clapping for a snap count has been implemented for Guarantano, who is playing with a brace on his injury left (non-throwing) hand.
Here’s some other related storylines:
Dig deep: Pruitt said practice on Wednesday wasn’t up to standard. He was mindful that the Vols haven’t had an off week since late September.
Kentucky, meanwhile, was off last Saturday.
“We are here in November and it’s a grind,” he said. “We’re at the point to where this is the sixth game since we have had an off week. As a coach, you circle that game in the preseason and say that we have to find a way to be at our best.
“We are banged up and sore like every other team in the country. We have to show some maturity and be able to push through to get the work done.”
Practice paying off: Tennessee is a plus-three in turnovers in the past four games and had a chance at two more fumble recoveries.
Preparation has been a factor along with good fortune.
“We keep a tab up every week of caused fumbles, interceptions, shots on the ball,” Pruitt said. “It might not be a fumble, but who took a shot on the ball, batted balls for passes? And the weeks that we do it in practice, it shows up in the game.”
Fresh kick: Sophomore Paxton Brooks, who has handled kickoffs this season, has replaced Joe Doyle as UT’s punter the past two games and averaged 44 yards per punt. Doyle had been averaging 41.4 yards per punt.
“Paxton has done a good job in practice to earn these opportunities,” Pruitt said. “It could change this week, so we’ll see. We’re going to play the guys who give us the best opportunity to have success.”
* * *
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at email@example.com