In this day and age where mobile quarterbacks are the norm, it’s unusual to see a traditional pocket passer. That’s exactly what Tennessee will see when they face Kentucky on Saturday.
UT linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary has a working knowledge of Kentucky quarterback Will Levis. When at Michigan, Jean-Mary coached against Levis when he was at Penn State. Levis was the victor on that day, leading the Nittany Lions to a 27-17 win against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
“Super, super talented guy,” Jean-Mary said referring to Levis. “At my previous stop, got a chance to see him at his previous stop, so we know what type of athlete he is. I think he’s really settled in as a quarterback.
“Has a rocket arm…very, very accurate and he’s making really good decisions,” Jean-Mary said. “You guys all see some of the draft primers. He’s very, very well thought of for those guys at the next level and you can see why the talent kind of jumps off of the screen. So he’s going to be a big time challenge for us.”
Levis, who has dealt with a foot and arm injury this season, isn’t the only challenge for the Vols and, certainly, isn’t the only thing that makes Kentucky unique – or at least unusual. While teams like Tennessee are using option principles with a flare for throwing the ball downfield, the Wildcats are much more traditional. For instance, the Vols like to spread receivers across the field. The Cats love to best utilize the fullback and tight end position – a lot.
Throwback? Yeah. Jean-Mary called the Cats “anti-tempo” during his press conference on Tuesday.
“Obviously they have a pro-style offense,” Jean-Mary said. “The coordinator (Rich Scangarello) came from the San Francisco 49ers and they’re going to give you a lot of different formations. They’re going to really test your force rules as far as your edges and make sure your very sound gap integrity.
“They do a really good job of mixing up tight ends and putting them in as a fullback, putting them in as receivers and you know with the motions and shifts that they do, we’re going to have to do a great job with our communication and our overall gap integrity this week.”
Nothing screams excitement like complete fullback utilization. Scintillating or not, the Cats’ 373.7 yards per game on offense ranks 11th in the SEC. For comparison sake, the Vols rank first in the conference with 571.7 yards per game.
The Cats should have a fresh running attack now that Chris Rodriquez is full go. The senior captain missed four games in what is widely thought to be a suspension related to receiving compensation for work he did not do. However, Kentucky never confirmed that Rodriquez was suspended. Perhaps he was just pacing himself for the second half of the season.
“I think he’s the catalyst for what they do on offense,” Jean-Mary said. “…Their their whole identity is running the football and I think he’s one of the best running backs in the SEC. He’s a downhill running back that you know doesn’t mind running through arm tackles and creates yardage by creating space for himself. He’s not a bounce outside and try to make you miss (tailback). You kind of know where he’s going to be and you know how he’s going to be. When he shows up, he runs angry.”
Breaking form, Rodriquez did show up to work last week, rushing for 197 yards and two touchdown on 31 carries in a 27-17 win against Mississippi State. The Vols may not have the mass inside they’d like to have to stop a power back like Rodriquez. However, the Vols, with defensive coordinator Tim Banks, will likely defend Rodriquez with a wide array of run-blitzes, twists and stunts when he clocks in.
“I think we are one of the best teams in the country,” Jean-Mary said. “Coach Banks does a great job, just trying to create havoc…our tackles-for-loss numbers have been high and we try to pressure the quarterback.”
The Vols are sixth in the SEC with 6.29 tackles for a loss this season. That stat will be put to the test against a team like Kentucky – as long as Rodriquez shows up to work.