IT Duo Plays Devil's Advocate
Chris Hannon
Chris Hannon
sportswriters
Posted Nov 28, 2003


Most people give Kentucky no chance to beat Tennessee Saturday in Lexington. I, on the other hand, give the Wildcats one chance. His name is Jared Lorenzen.

Tennessee has far better talent than Kentucky. Tennessee (9-2) has a far better record than Kentucky (4-7). Tennessee has far more to play for (a top-10 ranking and a major bowl bid) than Kentucky. Tennessee has far more momentum than Kentucky -- having beaten Vanderbilt 48-0 one week after the Big Blue lost to the same team 28-17.

On paper, it's a clear-cut mismatch. But Lorenzen is the wild card, the X factor. When he's hot, he makes Kentucky dangerous ... so dangerous it pushed Arkansas into seven overtimes earlier this fall ... so dangerous it had Florida on the ropes before Jumbo Jared made an uncharacteristically stupid mistake and threw an interception that was returned for the winning touchdown.

The Hefty Lefty, in case you've forgotten, shredded Tennessee's pass defense for 406 yards and four touchdowns two years ago. The fact the Big Orange shut him down last fall (9 completions in 23 attempts for 59 yards) could mean UT has his number ... or it could mean he just had an off day in a hostile stadium.

The fact is, a resourceful quarterback can win a game all by himself. Tee Martin proved this several times during his Tennessee career -- turning busted plays into big plays with his ability to buy time while his receivers got open or scramble for big gains. Lorenzen is similarly blessed. He can turn disasters into touchdowns.

''He'll scramble and make a play almost every game film you watch way down the field that's a broken play of some sort,'' Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said this week. ''We've got to do a good job of (preventing) that.''

Because Lorenzen threw a lot of interceptions early in his career -- and threw the oft-replayed Oskie against Florida -- he is viewed by some as an undisciplined quarterback who will make more bad plays than good plays. This is a dangerous misconception. Surrounded by mediocre talent much of his career, Lorenzen has had to gamble on his ability to complete passes that QBs in other systems might not attempt. Even so, he has thrown fewer interceptions this year (7) than any starting quarterback in the SEC except Auburn's Jason Campbell.

Lorenzen's brilliance helps explain why oddsmakers have installed UT as a mere 10-point favorite against the Big Blue. However, there are two more reasons Kentucky could give Tennessee fits:

1) Kentucky's greatest weakness is rushing defense (11th in the SEC), but the Vols don't have the ground game to exploit this. As Fulmer noted earlier this week: ''We've GOT to get better in the run game. I don't think we've nearly reached our potential in that area.''

2) Kentucky can be awfully tough at home, as the Cats proved on UT's last visit to Lexington. The Big Blue built a 21-0 lead before succumbing to a frantic Vol rally 38-35. Keep in mind: Kentucky was significantly worse that year (2-9) than this year and UT was significantly better that year than this year. Just two weeks after their scare in Lexington, the 2001 Vols whipped Steve Spurrier in The Swamp to complete a 10-1 regular season and earn a No. 2 national ranking.

Ultimately, though, Kentucky's hopes of springing a monumental upset rest in the hands of Jared Lorenzen. If the Vols contain him, they'll win big. If they don't ...

Why Big Orange will Tame Wildcats

I’ve been around football too long to ever believe that any outcome is certain, or that any opponent can be taken for granted. The moment you disrespect an opponent is the beginning of a defeat.

While it’s easy for fans to disparage an opponent, it rarely happens to teams. The reason is that players tend to see games in terms of the man playing in front of them, and even against a bad team you can easily be faced with a great player. Players know there isn’t a great gap in SEC talent levels and realize each game brings new, individual challenges.

However teams do sometimes lose their focus from either an inability to forget the last game or from looking ahead to the next game. That’s one reason I believe the Vols have managed to do so well (39 straight wins) over the last two decades against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Both teams regard Tennessee as their principle rival and, thus, arouse an emotional response from the Vols that they wouldn’t get against, let’s say, a Georgia or Florida.

Besides, it’s highly unlikely any team would look past Vanderbilt to Kentucky or vice versa. Similarly, Tennessee won’t be focused on last weeks’ win over the Commodores when they take the field at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, just like they won’t look past Kentucky to the next opponent because they don’t know who the next opponent might be.

The Vols can only hope, against all odds, Georgia Tech upsets Georgia later on Saturday to give them a shot at the SEC title. Instead, they’ll be focused on finishing strong to gain enough lift in the polls to land a BCS bid.

There’s no question that Wildcat QB Jared Lorenzen presents a unique challenge. He is a great improviser and he’s bigger three of UT’s starting defensive linemen — Parys Haralson, Constanin Ritzmann and J.T. Mapu. In fact, the only UT defensive starter bigger than Lorenzen is Greg Jones at 6-6, 300. Despite such ample proportions, Lorenzen is surprisingly mobile, but he’s also erratic and his mechanics are strictly backyard.

Even when J Lo is on, who has Kentucky beaten this season? A lineup of Murray State, Indiana, Ohio and Mississippi State wouldn’t strike fear in the hearts of any top 10 team. And there’s every indication the Wildcats suffered an emotional meltdown after losing the seven overtime affair against the Razorbacks, which was followed by a 28-17 defeat at Vanderbilt after a bye week, and a 30-10 setback at Georgia.

The Wildcats have been much better at home this year than on the road. They took Florida to the limit before losing 24-21, but that was before the Gators found their land legs. They lost to Louisville by 18 points in Lexington and fell behind Mississippi State 17-0 before recovering for a 42-17 win. Otherwise, Kentucky beat Division II Murray State and Ohio, a D-I program whose dubious post season history consists of nothing more than a trip to the 1968 Tangerine Bowl.

Kentucky isn’t nearly as healthy as it was in the early season. All-conference offensive tackle Antonio Hall was carried to the sidelines against Georgia with a leg injury and big guys don’t recover too quickly from injuries to load-bearing appendages. The Wildcats’ best receiver and return specialist, Derek Abney, is also questionable. Abney has 51 receptions this season while the UK’s second leading receiver, Chris Bernard, has only 28.

Depth is a problem in general for Kentucky and because it’s very late in the season, it usually shows when the Cats play the Vols. Conversely, Tennessee is as healthy as it has been in two years. Last season with multiple starters missing on both sides of the ball, the Vols still blanked the Cats 24-0. UT’s rapidly improving D has held three of its last four opponents without a touchdown and it will be tough to move on Saturday, especially by a one-dimensional offense that is next to last in the SEC in rushing.

The Volunteers can’t go to Lexington and throw their helmets on the field and expect to come away with a win, but a game approaching the level achieved in their last five outings will be enough to keep this streak alive.


Related Stories
Will Vols Whip Wildcats?
 -by InsideTennessee.com  Nov 28, 2003
Can Ole Miss beat LSU?
 -by InsideTennessee.com  Nov 21, 2003
The Big Blue circus comes to Athens this weekend
 -by DawgPost.com  Nov 17, 2003

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