Upset-minded Wildcats bring loaded offense into Knoxville, look for first win in 26 years

The year was 1984, and Ronald Reagan had just won the presidential election in a landslide against Democratic candidate Walter Mondale. The Internet we know was six years away from being released to the public, and Band-Aid recorded the charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to raise money to combat the famine in Ethiopia. 

The same year was also the last time that Kentucky beat Tennessee in football. 

Twenty-five years later, the game that college football experts call The Border Battle ensues in its typical annual affair this Saturday in Neyland Stadium, this time however, on a much more even playing field.

The Kentucky Wildcats (6-5, 2-5 SEC) come into the game unranked and riding a two-game winning streak after a disheartening month of October that saw only one win in five chances for the Wildcats, an upset victory against the then No. 10-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. The week before, Kentucky was tied with No. 2 Auburn throughout much of the fourth quarter before a disheartening 37-34 defeat at home. Tennessee (5-6, 2-5) is riding a three-game winning streak and needs one more victory to secure its chances to go bowling. 

It is no secret that Kentucky has playmakers this year, but it has had trouble piecing together full games and taking advantage of other teams’ mistakes in order to win. Still, this will be no match for the dominant team in the series, the Vols.

When you look at Kentucky, I think it’s as explosive a football team that we’ve seen and that they’ve had in a while, and they have had some great offensive teams,” said UT coach Derek Dooley. “I know that ’07 team was good. Back in the late ’90s they had some good ones, but these guys are really good, and as good a football team I think as they’ve had since even when they were really incredible in the late ’70s.

“They have the formula. They have a veteran quarterback. They have two receivers that can pierce you, one of them being an all-purpose guy who’s a phenomenal football player (Randall Cobb). They move him all over the field, and they have a good solid running back (Derrick Locke). When you have all those parts in place, you’re going to be good. 

Dooley may be cautious of Kentucky’s potent offense, which ranks 20th in the nation in passing yards per game and 22nd overall in points per game at 34.7, but its defense is where his Vols can exploit their border rival. The Wildcats are giving up nearly 30 points per game this season and are ranked 81st in the nation in that regard. 

For Alcoa High School alumni Randall Cobb and Tyler Robinson, a win against the Vols would not only polish their team’s resume for bowl game executives but also add a personal high to the end of this year’s regular season. Cobb, named one of the ten semifinalists for the 2010 Fred Biletnikoff Award, given to the best receiver in college football, was a standout at Knoxville suburb Alcoa High School before leaving the state for Kentucky. Robinson followed in his footsteps. 

“My dream was just to be playing college, and I am happy where I am at, and it is going to be something to go back and play there,” said Robinson, a freshman tight end at Kentucky. “But when I was a kid, of course I wanted to play for the Vols. Everybody did. But I am very happy here now.”

Tennessee would not give Robinson a scholarship, because coaches believed he would have to play center in their offense. Robinson felt that this game will be a chance for him to prove to them otherwise, all the while playing for one his nearby hometown’s favorite teams outside of the Big Orange. 

“I think they are going to be pro-Kentucky, because they have two of their boys here,” he said of his hometown. “There is a lot of Kentucky around the halls at Alcoa.”

Quarterback Tyler Bray makes his third start for the Vols, coming off a sloppy performance in a 24-10 win in Nashville. Last week against Vanderbilt, the freshman threw for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two picks, one of which was thrown in the red zone and allowed the Commodores to hang around. Tauren Poole looks to become Tennessee’s next 1,000-yard rusher this weekend against Kentucky, needing only 65 yards to do so. 

Derek Dooley announced yesterday that defensive end Montori Hughes will be suspended for this weekend’s game for “academic reasons.” Kickoff for the 2010 Border Battle is set for 12:21 p.m. in Knoxville.