No. 18 Tennessee tries to bounce back against rival Kentucky

ATHENS, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 10: Head coach Jeremy Pruitt of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts to a touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half at Sanford Stadium on October 10, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The 18th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers seem to have the perfect opponent up next for them as they try to bounce back with a victory after an ugly loss.

That would be Kentucky.

The Wildcats have not won in Knoxville since 1984 with a string of 17 straight losses at Neyland Stadium going into Saturday’s game with Tennessee. The Volunteers have won 33 of the past 35 games in this border rivalry.

But only Georgia and Florida have more wins than Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division the past three seasons, and Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt sees the Wildcats as a team that could easily be undefeated instead of 1-2 after losses to Auburn and Ole Miss.

His Vols lost 44-21 loss at No. 3 Georgia last week.

“It’ll be a tremendous challenge for us to find out a little bit about who we are,” Pruitt said.

Kentucky just throttled Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, picking off six passes in a 24-2 win over Mississippi State last week. Coach Mark Stoops said playing this SEC-only schedule this season is a grind with the league enjoying NFL-like parity and forcing everyone to hit the reset button.

And this game matters because it’s Tennessee.

“It is a team that is on your side of the league,” said Stoops, who is 1-6 against Tennessee. “It’s an East game, it’s a rival game, it’s our neighbor. It’s an important football game.”

Tennessee beat Kentucky 17-13 last year in Lexington despite the Wildcats holding the ball for more than 41 minutes. The Vols got a couple sacks despite Kentucky throwing only seven passes.

“No matter whether they pass the ball 48 times a game or run the ball 60 times a game, we’re just trying to go out there and play some good football and win the ball game,” Tennessee defensive end Matthew Butler said.

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