Tennessee vs Kentucky Prediction, Picks: Our Betting Experts Debate Both Sides of Saturday’s Rivalry
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- Josh Heupel and the Tennessee Volunteers host Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats in a Saturday night SEC game.
- Our analysts, Tanner McGrath and Mike Ianniello, are betting opposite sides in this rivalry and explain their reasoning below.
- Read on to see both sides of this betting debate.
Tennessee vs Kentucky Odds
-110 / -110
-110 / -110
Kentucky football has been in this situation before. Mark Stoops has been an underdog throughout his tenure with the Wildcats and has overcome every possible obstacle in rebuilding this program.
For example, Stoops is 3-0 ATS and 2-1 SU as an underdog this season. The Wildcats also went 2-0 ATS as a road dog last season. The Wildcats are 23-12-1 ATS as underdogs since 2016 with 15 outright upsets.
You don’t want to fade Stoops when he’s catching double digits.
Plus, there are advantages for Kentucky in this game.
Kentucky has a dominant rush defense (fifth in Success Rate Allowed) going up against a rush-heavy Tennessee offense (37th in Rush Rate). But the Wildcats are also excellent in coverage (14th in Pass Success Rate Allowed) and with their backs against the wall (sixth in Points Per Opportunity Allowed).
The Wildcats are also more disciplined. Kentucky is sixth in penalties per game while Tennessee is 129th. The Wildcats are 22nd in tackling while Tennessee is 46th.
And say what you want about Will Levis, but he can produce enough offense against Tennessee’s 109th-ranked coverage unit to cover a big spread.
Our internal Action projections make this spread Tennessee -8.8. Kentucky with the points is the smart play on Saturday night.
Let’s all take a moment together to have a nice big laugh that there are still idiots out there who think Levis will be a top-10 NFL draft pick.
So called “experts” see a 6-foot-3, 230-pound guy with a strong arm and don’t actually watch the games. When you watch the games, it becomes clear that Levis just isn’t that good at football.
In his career, he has 22 Big Time Throws and 24 Turnover Worthy Plays.
This season, he has just three Big Time Throws and six Turnover Worthy Plays. For comparison, his three Big Time Throws rank 14th in the SEC, tied with Vanderbilt’s backup quarterback.
Levis has been able to pick on some of the smaller schools, but he has really struggled against SEC competition. This year, he has four touchdowns and two interceptions in three SEC games. Last year, he had 13 touchdowns with eight interceptions against conference opponents.
Despite his size and athleticism, he also isn’t as mobile as people like to think he is. He has rushed for a whopping -49 rushing yards this season. He has been sacked 18 times this year, the second most in the SEC.
Even if you take out the sack yardage, he has still managed just 78 rushing yards all season, the fewest among any quarterback in the SEC.
On the other sideline will be Hendon Hooker, who is playing himself into a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He is averaging 300 yards passing per game with 18 touchdowns and just one interception. He is completing over 70% of his passes, with an 11.9 average depth of target.
Hooker has the highest completion percentage in the country of any quarterback with an ADOT of at least 10 yards.
His best performances have come in the biggest games this year. He went 22-for-28 for 349 yards and two touchdowns against Florida and 21-for-30 for 385 yards and five touchdowns against Alabama.
Kentucky cannot keep up with this offense. The Vols are averaging 571.7 yards and 50.1 points per game, both the most in the country. They have cooked everybody this season and only appear to be getting better.
McGrath: I don’t think this game is about Levis. Nobody denies Levis is on the same planet as Hooker, although there isn’t a collegiate quarterback currently as talented as the Vols’ signal caller.
Instead, we need to ask if Hooker is worth 14 points to the spread compared to Levis.
I don’t think he is.
Additionally, this is not a game that Hooker will thrive in. Not when Kentucky’s defense is 11th in Standard Downs Success Rate and top-25 in defending Passing Downs Success Rate and Explosiveness.
Kentucky can force Tennessee into passing downs and then compete with Hooker’s brilliance.
Levis isn’t mobile, but I don’t see Tennessee taking advantage of that. The Vols are 67th in PFF’s Pass Rush grades and 100th in creating Havoc.
Throw in the lackadaisical coverage, and the Vols allowed the wildly overrated Anthony Richardson to throw for over 450 yards — Richardson hasn’t broken 185 passing yards in any other game.
It’s fantastic that Hooker had that excellent performance in that massive game against Florida. The Vols closed at -11 and won by five.
I see something similar happening this week.
Ianniello: I can use trends too. Josh Heupel is 6-3 ATS as a favorite at Tennessee. He is 4-1 ATS as a favorite this season, and 2-0 as a favorite of this size or more.
He is also 1-0 against Kentucky.
Like Tanner said, despite Hooker receiving all the headlines, this is still a run-first team. The Vols have the ninth-best Rushing Success Rate this season and have averaged over 200 yards on the ground with 23 rushing touchdowns.
When they run the ball, Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright are both averaging over 56 yards per game and make a great one-two punch. Hooker has been lethal at extending drives with his legs, as well. Hooker has 30 rushing attempts this year, and 22 of them have gone for a first down.
The number of weapons this Vols offense has is crazy. Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt has turned into a superstar, Bru McCoy is a former five-star recruit finally getting his shine, their top dog Cedric Tillman is expected to return this week and they have a freshman whose name is Squirrel White.
Kentucky has just one player averaging more than 50 receiving yards per game this year in Tayvion Robinson, and he missed last week’s game with an injury. The Wildcats don’t have the big-play weapons to keep up with the Vols.
The Wildcats are also a run-first team. However, they don’t do it nearly as well as Tennessee. They rank just 51st in Success Rate on the ground and are 130th in Explosiveness.
Tennessee’s defense has taken a massive step forward this season, especially against the run. The Vols’ defense ranks 14th in the nation at defending Success Rate on the ground. No team has managed over 150 yards rushing against them, and they’ve allowed just 2.9 yards per carry.
Everybody knows this Tennessee offense is elite. But it was terrific last season, as well. It is the improvement of this defense that has the Vols ranked No. 3 in the country and has them in the national title conversation.
McGrath: Kentucky has enough weapons to keep this game within two touchdowns.
The Wildcats have their own one-two punch of Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke, and both backs are averaging over five YPC.
But Rodriguez is the lead back and difference maker.
Rodriguez returned in Week 5 after an injury and has produced back-to-back monster performances. He’s rushed for over 320 yards combined at over six YPC while producing over 100 yards after contact in each game.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 18, 2022
While the offensive line’s numbers are poor, this is an improving unit. Kentucky recorded over 3.3 Line Yards per rush against both Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and it was perfect in Power Success Rate in the former.
Defensively, Kentucky has two defensive backs in the top 100 in PFF’s Coverage grades among Power Five teams. Jordan Lovett and Keidron Smith have enough juice to hold down the law firm of Hyatt-McCoy-Tillman.
The Wildcats’ defense has shown its ability against other major SEC offenses, with a fifth of Mississippi’s drives ending in three and outs, and Mississippi State finishing with an 11% Passing Downs Success Rate.
Tennessee is Kentucky’s toughest test yet, but Stoops and the Wildcats almost always play up to their competition. They scored 42 points on Heupel’s defense last year in a game decided by just a field goal.
Ianniello: Kentucky’s defense has solid numbers. But I’m not sold that it’ll be able to have success against Hooker and this Vols offense. The Wildcats have been able to pad their stats against struggling offenses.
While Stoops always has good defenses, he has struggled with this Heupel offense.
In last year’s matchup, Tennessee put up 461 total yards of offense. The Vols averaged a ridiculous 9.8 yards per play. They damn near had a first down every time they snapped the ball. It was by far the best offensive performance against the Cats.
In that game, Hooker was a near perfect 15-of-20 for 316 yards and four touchdowns. Small and Wright each rushed for over 50 yards and combined for 9.5 yards per carry.
The only reason Kentucky was able to keep things close in the loss was because Wan’Dale Robinson had 13 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown.
The Wildcats’ do-it-all playmaker is now gone, and they have nobody who can replace his production. Tennessee has a much better defense than it did last year and should do a much better job against the Wildcats in this one, while Kentucky will still struggle to stop this offense.
Sometimes an offense just has a certain defense’s number and works against its scheme. As good as this Kentucky defense has been, it did not have any answers for Tennessee’s offense last year. The Vols are even more dangerous and loaded with weapons this year.
McGrath: Bet Kentucky +12.5
This game is just not that lopsided. Kentucky has shown ability on both sides of the ball.
The Wildcats are a great rushing team with Rodriguez back in the fold and Levis should create enough of a passing attack against one of the worst pass defenses in college football.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s defense can counter the Tennessee rush attack and Hooker in Passing Downs while succeeding on third downs and in the red zone.
Kentucky also has added edges that include discipline and an up-and-up offensive line.
This is also an excellent spot for Kentucky. Tennessee is overvalued after a superhuman performance against Alabama and a routine domination of UT Martin.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is coming off of a bye week and has just passed tests against an up-tempo Ole Miss offense (which compares well to Tennessee) and a top-tier Miss State offense.
Again, the Action Analytics team makes this spread Kentucky +8.8, giving us nearly four points of value on Kentucky +12.5.
Ianniello: Bet Tennessee -12.5
It’s hard to argue that this Tennessee offense is anything but top two in the entire country. Hooker is playing like a legit Heisman Trophy contender and this team has enough weapons to go up-and-down the field on any defense in the country.
Kentucky has been really strong under Stoops, but I still think it’s a little overrated this season. And the Wildcats’ quarterback is wildly overrated.
Levis is not capable of going toe-to-toe with Hooker, especially with the way Hooker is playing right now.
The Vols’ defense is improved enough to slow the running game down enough to force Levis to keep the Wildcats in this game with his arm, where he is a turnover-worthy machine.
If all that wasn’t enough to convince you, any chance Tanner and Kentucky had went out the window as soon as the Vols announced they were wearing these bad boys on Saturday.
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) October 25, 2022
Those are blow out uniforms. Tennessee is ranked No. 3 in the country and has its sights set on a trip to the College Football Playoff. Neyland Stadium is going to be rocking all day. As long as the Vols were able to find new goal posts for the game, they should pull away here.