Marinating 25 with 517 for your Thanksgiving Feast

Here we are once again, in anticipation of facing a long-standing adversary who would like a win more than oxygen to live. The Kentucky Wildcats desperately want to erase a slate currently littered with embarrassing numbers. We had better be ready and equipped with our A-game.

The t-shirt worn by Kentucky offensive lineman Brad Durham. Photo from the Lexington Herald-Leader via GoVolsXtra.com

I think we will.

On the defensive side of the ball… Senior LB Nick Reveiz has been nominated for the first-annual Burlsworth Award which honors the nation’s most outstanding walk-on player. Nick is simply the Vols’ leader when the enemy has the ball. Sophomore safety Janzen Jackson may be the most productive member of this year’s defense. He seems to be making a larger print on the game with every week. Is cornerback in his future? Right now, the secondary has 9 INTs in the last 3 games, and ranks third in the SEC and 12th nationally with 16 interceptions. And, the defensive line seems decent with Jackson/Walker/Williams holding court.

The kicking game is a bit of a mess. Anthony Anderson will apparently be the oxymoronish punt returner for the second consecutive week. Let’s see if he knows how to raise his right hand high in the air and wave it. With the weather promising to be a bit on the cold side at game time, and the ball feeling a bid harder and heavier, let’s hope that kickoff specialist Michael Palardy can consistently kick the ball deeper than the Kentucky 10 yard line. But the star this season is senior PK Daniel Lincoln, who is 9-for-9 on FGs this season. Impressively, Daniel is 5-for-5 between 40 and 49 yards. Palardy hasn’t been bad on FGs either. He is 5-for-7, with his two misses being beyond 40 yards.

Now for the offense… The WRs are all healthy for Saturday. Lead by seniors Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones, the pass-catching corps got collectively better with the emergence of freshman Justin Hunter, who has 15 catches for over 400 yards, including 6 TDs, ranking him as the top freshman TD pass catcher in Vol history. The OL will go with the same starting five for the third consecutive week. Behind the baby bulls, our running game has been inconsistent – last week’s sub-par performance – but Tauren Poole has his sights set on a big day Saturday to put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He needs only 65 net yards to become the (approximately) 16th Vol rusher to reach that plateau. He also has a knack for ripping off some pretty big-gain runs; he clinched the win over Vandy with a 28-yard run to paydirt near game’s end, and has a 59-yard TD run, one of 10 this year. [NOTE: I say “approximately” because you cannot find a reliable list of Vol rushing records on the internet.]

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And, lastly, QB Tyler Bray (he deserves his own section). Between his first throw at South Carolina, an interception returned for a score, to his first interception against Vandy last week, the California gunslinger passed at a clip of 58-of-96 for 980 yards and 12 TDs, which translates to a QB rating of 187.42. Last week’s mixed performance notwithstanding, Bray is the talisman of this team, and the evil from which he is protecting the VolNation is the possibility of Kentucky bringing The Streak to an end on our hallowed ground.

But, alas, it’s not the last word. There was a report/speculation that Bray may not be completely healthy. He was underthrowing at the beginning of Tuesday’s practice, and later didn’t participate in throwing drills. Dave Hooker (GVX/KNS) said he was wincing when he threw toward the end of the game Saturday night.

Well, well, doesn’t that make Saturday just a little more interesting that it needs to be. A Bray and Simms retrospective: Bray has played against Memphis, Ole Miss, and Vandy. Simms faced schools like Oregon, Alabama, LSU, and Florida.

SIMMS: 113-of-195 | 1460 yards | 57.9% | 8 TDs | 5 INTs | 129.3 rating

BRAY: 78-of-141 | 1183 | 55.3% | 12 TDs | 5 INTs | 146.8 rating

Bray’s 12 TD passes are what stick out for him. His performance against Vandy brought everybody back to earth. Simms’ fumbles in the pocket were his final downfall (they don’t show up in the stats). If, if, IF Simms is the QB on Saturday, we will be running the ball. And no matter who the QB is against Kentucky, we will have to have success on the ground to win.

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Three Wildcats with historical links to the Volunteeer State will be in town this Saturday. After a bye week, Tee Martin returns to Neyland Stadium and will arrive Saturday morning on the street bearing his name. He helped extend The Streak from 12 to 15 over a decade ago. Everyone wearing orange on Saturday, whether with voice or with mind, will welcome home one of our legendary heroes [during the last half of the 1998 season, a picture of Tee, with arm cocked, graced my refirgerator’s front door]. Randy Sanders comes to Knoxville, too, but most Tennesseeans remember him for 2005, the season for which he continues to take the fall. And multi-purpose player Randall Cobb returns to East Tennessee. Last week, the Maryville native visited his old high school in Alcoa to have his number retired, but he desperately wants to be eternally honored as a player who led his college team on the field in ending The Streak.

Ah yes, The Streak.

Meditate on the numbers 25 and 517: The Streak and The Margin. Unless you just moved into the state from a foreign country, it was 1984 that Kentucky last defeated Tennessee. During the ensuing, glorious 25 straight wins, the Vols piled up a point margin of 517. This week in Lexington, the Kentucky players sported white t-shirts with a simple print on the front, the number “517”. The Wildcats are oddly using that embarrassing total as motivation for this Saturday (if I was a ‘Cat, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a shirt like that); they have been waiting all season for this game. After all, everyone of their players were born after 1984. They know nothing else except futility at the hands of Tennessee. All UK undergraduates are in the same pool of experience. Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips was a wide receiver on the ‘Cats 1984 team. He’s 46 years old. The Streak has existed for more than half his life.

The same things were being said before last year’s KY-TN clash, and before the 2008 game, and before the 2007 game, and… The more things change – Kentucky’s football program has seen an overall improvement over the past few years whereas Tennessee’s has declined – the more things seem to remain the same.

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On Thursday, I will give many thanks for many things. One of those things are the numbers 25 and 517. I will marinate The Streak and The Margin to remember this long-standing rivalry with much flavor, and to let those numbers soak in to allow reflection on the fact that my school – my team – holds the country’s longest winning streak over an opponent.

On Saturday, I will be wishing for 26 and about 550. On Friday, I’ll let you know if I think that wish will actually happen.

Until then, have a wonderfully happy Thanksgiving with family and friends, and be thankful for big numbers.

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