Kentucky vs Tennessee Odds, Picks and Predictions: Vols Vault First Half Spread

Kentucky's been proving itself a legitimate program this season, but Tennessee has too well-oiled of a machine on offense. Our college football picks examine why Hendon Hooker and the Vols will separate themselves early in this Week 9 contest.

Ashley Anderson - Betting Analyst
Ashley Anderson • Betting Analyst
Oct 27, 2022 • 10:15 ET • 4 min read
Hendon Hooker Tennessee
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

The No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers bring an undefeated, seven-game win streak into their home matchup with the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats, who snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over then-No. 16 Mississippi State at home on Oct. 15.

The Vols are one of six FBS teams that remain undefeated ahead of Week 9 and opened as 12.5 to 14-point favorites in most sportsbooks' college football odds. Dating back to 1985, the Wildcats have lost all but three of the last 37 matchups against their SEC East rival, but those three victories have all come in the last decade, including a 34-7 win in Knoxville in 2020.

Can Kentucky, fresh off a bye week, spring an upset and unseat one of the few remaining unbeatens in college football? Below are our best free college football picks and predictions for Kentucky vs. Tennessee.

Kentucky vs Tennessee best odds

Kentucky vs Tennessee picks and predictions

Following back-to-back losses to then-No. 14 Ole Miss and South Carolina, Kentucky got back in the win column with a healthy Will Levis, who returned from a one-game absence, in the Oct. 15 matchup with MSU.

Against a Mississippi State team that ranks in the bottom five of the SEC in passing yards allowed, Levis had a respectable outing. He went 17 of 23 for 230 yards with one touchdown, which he threw with about four minutes remaining in the third quarter to put the Cats up for good. However, he also chucked an interception that was returned 59 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth, putting MSU within striking distance.

On Saturday, the star of Kentucky’s offense was running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., who lifted the Cats to a 27-17 win with a seven-yard run with 5:30 remaining in regulation. Rodriguez, in his third game back since an early-season suspension, rushed for 197 yards and two scores on a career-high 31 carries. In the process, he became the fourth Kentucky player to surpass 3,000 rushing yards for his career.

While UK downed a ranked opponent ahead of a juicy matchup with Tennessee, the Wildcats have room for improvement. They were called for 11 penalties for 84 yards and also lost a fumble on their first possession of the game.

On the plus side, the defense let Mississippi State convert on just three of 11 third-down attempts, held the Bulldogs pass attack to 5.5 yards per pass, and surrendered just 2.2 yards per carry.

Against Tennessee, the defense will need a similar effort as it faces the top-ranked offense in the country.

The Volunteers average 571.7 yards per game, including 368.9 yards through the air (second-most in FBS), and rank 24th in average rushing yards (202.9) and sixth in rushing scores (23).

On defense, Tennessee is a mixed bag. The Vols rank second-to-last in all of college football in passing yards allowed (329.7) but are tied for eighth in rushing yards surrendered (90.9). Luckily for the Vols, they are creating enough turnovers to compensate for their struggles against the pass, with 13 TOs gained to eight turnovers lost. Kentucky is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with eight turnovers gained and 12 lost.

While UK will be able to push the ball through the air on offense, it will hit a brick wall against Tennessee’s run defense and will likely cough up the ball a few times, keeping the Wildcats from completing what would be a season-defining upset.

UK’s defense will be the key to this matchup and may give Tennessee some trouble, but Hendon Hooker will find a way to get the ball down the field and put away the Cats.

Kentucky is 4-34-1 all time against ranked Tennessee teams, and heading to the hostile territory of Neyland Stadium will crank up the pressure.

We could see a shootout similar to last year’s 45-42 decision in Lexington, but Hooker will outshine Levis and give the Vols a comfortable lead heading into halftime.

My best bet: First-half spread Tennessee -7 (-110 at DraftKings)

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Kentucky vs Tennessee spread analysis

The Vols are 14-0 when leading at halftime and 0-6 when trailing at the half under Josh Heupel, who became head coach in 2021.

They’re also 82-26-9 all-time against Kentucky, but have lost twice (once at home and once on the road) since 2017.

The Wildcats opened as a 12 to 14-point underdog at most sportsbooks, with the line settling at 12.

UK has been reliable against the spread this season, going 5-2 overall, 3-0 ATS as an underdog, and 2-0 on the road, while Tennessee is 6-1 ATS overall and 4-1 ATS at home.

Tennessee may not be as rested as Kentucky ahead of this game, but the Vols had a bit of a cakewalk against UT Martin last week, following a shocking win over then-No. 3 Alabama. The Vols mounted a 52-7 lead at the half over their FCS opponent and were able to rest their starters for most of the second half in the 65-24 victory.

The game prior, Hooker tied a career-high with five touchdown passes against Alabama, threw for 385 yards, and rushed for 56 yards on 14 attempts.

He’ll confront a better pass defense in Kentucky than he did against Alabama, but he should be able to find the end zone a handful of times.

UK showed it could handle a high-flying Mississippi offense in a 22-19 road loss that may have gone the other way if not for a costly turnover by Levis and a pair of botched extra-point attempts.

In their series with Tennessee, the Wildcats are 3-12 ATS in their last 15 games and 2-5 ATS in the last seven meetings in Knoxville, but the underdog is 5-1 ATS in the last six in this series and the road team is 6-1 ATS in the last seven.

To hang with Tennessee, UK will need to try to slow down the game, something it has done a good job of this season, ranking sixth in average time of possession (33:46).

But Tennessee’s goal is to force Kentucky to play catch up with it and go shot for shot down the field. UK’s offensive line has had issues, and the defense is not generating enough pressure to make Hendon uncomfortable in the pocket.

The Cats have their work cut out for them, but they can make this one interesting, so long as they take better care of the ball and make adjustments on defense to keep Hendon from doing as much damage as last season’s matchup.

Kentucky vs Tennessee Over/Under analysis

he total opened at 63 at most books and has shifted a point toward the Under. Barring last year’s barn burner, the total has averaged 39.3 points in games dating back to 2017.

The Over has hit in all but two of Tennessee’s seven games this year, while the Under is 6-1 for Kentucky this season.

The Under is also 5-2-1 in the last eight games of this series held in Knoxville, with the two most recent matchups in Tennessee resulting in scores of 34-7 and 24-7.

The Under is 2-1 in the last three games between these teams and 5-5 in the last 10.

Based on the way Kentucky has played against SEC opponents this year, there’s reason to believe they can challenge Tennessee, but this will also be UK’s stiffest test on defense thus far.

The most points Kentucky has permitted all season is 24 to South Carolina. The fewest points Tennessee has scored is 34 in Week 2 against a ranked Pitt team.

Kentucky’s ability to control the clock will determine a lot of the outcome. If the offense can stay on the field and find a few running lanes to keep the Vols defense off-balance, we’ll see a close, low-scoring battle, but if Levis is forced to pass often and play catchup with Tennessee, we’re in for another high-octane thriller like last year.  

Kentucky vs Tennessee betting trend to know

Kentucky is 2-5 ATS in its last seven meetings in Tennessee. Find more NCAA betting trends for Kentucky vs. Tennessee.

Kentucky vs Tennessee game info

Location: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, TN
Date: Saturday, October 29, 2022
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. ET

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Kentucky vs Tennessee weather

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