Kentucky’s defense stormed through the three-week stretch between byes with impressive performances, capped off by the showing two Saturday’s ago against the Missouri Tigers. Defensive coordinator Brad White says he thinks it would have served the unit well to have played last week with all the momentum they gathered, but knows it’s up to them to sustain it despite the time off.
“You kind of wish that you could have just kept on rolling,” he said. “We know we’ve got to come out, got to come out and be aggressive, got to tackle well… to keep that positive momentum going.”
Defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale echoed that sentiment, saying his players are anxious to get back on the game field.
“I think they’ve been chomping at the bit,” he said. “I’d like to see them go out and meet that challenge.”
Players and fans alike haven’t forgotten what happened when the Cats and Tennessee Volunteers met up last season. According to defensive lineman Marquan McCall, last year’s team wasn’t “ready mentally” for the game. But that is different this time around.
“We just trying to show them that it was a fluke, and we ready to play,” he told reporters. “We dialed in. We focused, we don’t play at practice, none of that. It’s a big game”
Like McCall, other defensive players want to show that last year was an aberration.
“Everybody knows we didn’t come out and play how we were supposed to play [last year],” defensive back Cedrick Dort Jr. said. “It’s a new year, new defense, and we’re ready just to get it in.”
“We could have played a lot better, could have had a lot more energy,” outside linebacker Jamar “Boogie” Watson said. “Definitely think we’ll play that way this game.”
Another thing expressed by multiple players was a sort of familiarity in their preparation, specifically compared to another SEC East foe.
“They’re very physical, a very physical bunch,” linebacker DeAndre Square told reporters. “Pretty similar to Georgia… style-wise.”
Tennessee may be similar to the Bulldogs on the field, but off the field, their rivalry with the Cats dwarfs Georgia’s. Dort Jr. says he knows how massive it is for the Kentucky fanbase when the two schools square off.
“We know it’s big for the fans… Everybody knows the teams BBN, you know, dislikes,” he said. “We know this game is a big game cause of the checkerboards and stuff like that, we pretty tuned in.”
When asked about his hatred of Tennessee, McCall provided an answer that many Kentucky fans have probably used regarding the orange and white.
“I ain’t gonna say I hate them,” he said with a grin. “But we do…we dislike them a lot.”