Tennessee did what they needed to do on Saturday. They secured a win, set some records and never let an over-matched opponent have any hope of making a game out of what turned out to be a 65-24 blowout.
Now, things get much more interesting. The Vols will face Kentucky on Saturday in hopes of keeping their college football playoff hopes alive. That game is no given despite what the history of the series might indicate. The Vols have 34 of the last 37 games against the Wildcats, but Tennessee has only beaten Kentucky in three of the last five games. The Vols needed everything they could muster for a 45-42 win against the Cats last year.
There is no doubt. Kentucky is respectable and then some. The Wildcats had the third best pass defense in the SEC headed into this weekend’s games. Kentucky is 5-2 and had a bye week to prepare for the Vols.
Tennessee won’t face many teams that are built like Kentucky because the Cats just aren’t the norm. Kentucky is built on toughness and maturity. They rely more on player development than the transfer portal. It seems unlikely that the Cats will be overcome by the hype that has become commonplace at Neyland Stadium.
It’s easy to simply think that Georgia is the final hurdle on the road to immortality for the Vols. That makes sense. Georgia is probably the only team remaining on Tennessee’s schedule that will be favored over the Vols. That doesn’t mean the rest of the schedule is a cake walk, but it sort of is – other than Kentucky.
Tennessee will be double-digit favorites against every team they play for the remainder of the season except for Georgia and, perhaps, Kentucky. The Cats aren’t going to play for a College Football Championship as the Vols hope to do. Kentucky would love nothing more than to beat the Vols in their year of resurrection.
Other than Kentucky and Georgia, it’s hard to imagine any team on the Vols schedule being able to keep up with Tennessee’s scoring machine on offense. Is anyone really worried about Missouri, South Carolina or Vanderbilt? I think not.
Sure, the Vols could stumble, stub their toe and turn a championship-potential season into one that will be remembered with regret. However, that doesn’t seem to be the personality of this football team.
Aside from a couple of plays, the Vols took care of UT-Martin. The Vols didn’t look complacent or hungover from the Alabama win. That is simply the character of this team, one of confidence, high goals and professionalism.
If all that holds true, then Kentucky doesn’t really have a chance. The Vols appear to be on a mission and are getting better. Defensive back Jaylen McCollough could be back from his suspension for the Kentucky game, although that is still in question. Receiver Cedric Tillman will almost assuredly be ready to play against Kentucky.
Can Kentucky keep up with the Vols and derail their championship hopes? Certainly. However, this Tennessee team – and its psyche – doesn’t seem to be built like that.