No. 18 Kentucky, Tennessee eager to halt 2-game SEC slides

Tennessee (4-4, 2-3 SEC) at No. 12 Kentucky (6-2, 4-2 SEC, No. 18 CFP), Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT (SEC).

Line: Kentucky by 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: Tennessee leads 81-26-9.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Tennessee had a bye after consecutive losses against then-No. 13 Mississippi (31-26) and at then-No. 4 Alabama (52-24). Kentucky’s second-place standing in the SEC East appears shaky after consecutive losses including last week’s 31-17 dud at Mississippi State coming off a bye. The Wildcats seek consecutive victories against the Volunteers since 1976-77.

KEY MATCHUP

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker vs. Kentucky’s secondary. The Virginia Tech transfer has blossomed in Josh Heupel’s quick-tempo system, completing nearly 69% of his passes for 1,578 yards and 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions. His 179.92 passer rating ranks fourth in the SEC. He has also rushed for 417 yards and four TDs, posing dual challenges for a Kentucky defense that allowed Mississippi State’s pass-happy Air Raid scheme to total 344 yards. To be fair, the Wildcats twice had to defend short fields after two of their four offensive turnovers. But they also allowed SEC passing leader Will Rogers to complete 36 of 39 attempts.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Tennessee wide receiver JaVonta Payton has a team-high five TD receptions and ranks fifth in the SEC. The Mississippi State graduate transfer has a career-best 287 yards receiving, including a 75-yarder at Florida, and has started every game after starting five of 22 contests with the Bulldogs.

Kentucky wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson is among the national leaders, ranking 11th with 7.2 receptions per game and 34th with 80.6 yards per outing. The Nebraska transfer leads the Wildcats with 58 catches for 645 and five TDs.

FACTS & FIGURES

Tennessee is plus-8 in turnover margin the past six games with eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries against three giveaways. … Vols safety Jaylen McCollough ranks second in the SEC and 10th in FBS with three interceptions. … Tennessee has won 17 of its last 19 trips to Lexington, including 17-13 in 2019. … Kentucky snapped a 36-year road drought against UT with last year’s 34-7 victory in Knoxville. … Kentucky RB Chris Rodriguez is second in SEC rushing (809 yards) but has just 41 the past two games. … Heupel and Kentucky counterpart Mark Stoops worked as Arizona assistants in 2005.

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