Knowing the numbers perhaps made the loss to Tennessee more painful.
Somehow, Kentucky rang up 443 yards on the ground, just three shy of the school record set in 1951 against Tennessee Tech.
The number was the most against a Southeastern Conference opponent in school history.
“We ran hard,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “I think we had some good things, downfield blocking, and all that was positive.”
And yet, a 49-36 loss.
“I don’t even know what we rushed for,” Gran said when asked if he’d ever seen a game with that many rushing yards in a losing effort. “The bottom line is win.
“I know we rushed the ball well and that’s a good thing, but the one thing I know about football is that you got to put it all together, especially in this league. You have to put it all together. At times we had a chance to and we didn’t.”
Kentucky started the game with a 75-yard run by quarterback Stephen Johnson. Running back Jojo Kemp also had a career-long 71-yard scamper in the game.
On first down, UK ran it 29 times for 333 yards, or 11.5 yards per carry.
Boom Williams led the way with 127 yards and a touchdown.
“Never seen anything like it,” Williams said of UK’s avalanche of rushing yards. “But it happens, so we just go back to the drawing board, see the things we can correct.”
It was Tennessee talking about corrections after the Volunteers gave up 635 yards of total offense.
“That’s a prideful group,” Coach Butch Jones said of his defense. “We have to get that corrected and the rush yards and the big plays that we gave up in the run game. From the sideline, I think a lot of them were misfits. We misfit too many tackles. We’ll go back to work, but it’s resolve and resiliency.”
It wasn’t just the eye-bulging numbers put up in the run game for Kentucky, but also the number of players who made their mark.
All four UK running backs rushed for at least 72 yards, including Sihiem King, who had just two carries all season before his 75 yards and a touchdown on six carries late in the game.
“That young man has worked his tail off,” Gran said of the fourth-string running back. “He’s worked really hard, so it was good to see him get in there and get some positive stuff happen to him.”
Kemp, who had missed the last two games with a broken hand, returned on Saturday and ran for 90 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
“It was good to see Jojo back,” Gran said of the senior, who played with a cast on his hand. “I wanted to get him and he got in and did a really good job of protection, too.”
Hitting the reset button
After winning five of its six games in the middle of the season, Kentucky has now lost two straight.
The Cats are back to where they’ve been so many times the past two seasons: at five wins with few opportunities to get that sixth that will make them bowl eligible for the first time in six years.
Next week’s game at Commonwealth Stadium against winless Austin Peay on Senior Day is UK’s best opportunity, but the team needs to brush off this 49-36 loss at Tennessee and start trying to learn from mistakes.
“It would mean a great deal and we have to continue to push forward,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said. “Nobody’s happy. We have to learn with every opportunity, in our preparation, in big games, in big moments, in tough environments against very good teams, you have to get better each and every day and our team has to bounce back.
“They will; I think it’s very important. We’ve come a long way and we’re not going to go backwards, we’ve got to continue to push forward.”
Kentucky needs to seize on this opportunity, Boom Williams said.
“Everything we set goals for at the beginning of the season are still in front of us,” he said. “We just need to come out as a team. We’re just going to come out as a team and practice well all week.”
Other news and notes
Quarterback Stephen Johnson connected on 12 of his 29 pass attempts for 192 yards and had one interception on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. He was disappointed he was sacked four times, blaming himself.
“A few throws that I could have made and a few things that I could have done moving around the pocket and not having so many sacks,” said Johnson, who ran for 72 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s not all on the offensive line. That’s me, like I said, having my feet in concrete. Just need to focus on moving around at times and just be able to sustain drives.”
All in all, Gran thought Johnson managed the game well.
“We had a couple drops that could’ve kept drives going, so that doesn’t help your quarterback when that happens,” he said.
▪ Kentucky finished league play 4-4 and will finish no worse than third in the East Division. Since the SEC split into two divisions in 1992, UK’s highest finish is third (1993, 2006).
▪ Kicker Austin MacGinnis’ 12 points on Saturday gave him 235 career points, moving him past Randall Cobb, Taylor Begley and Seth Hanson for third place on UK’s all-time scoring list.