Depending on the length of his stay, a senior at Kentucky could have lived through two seasons that ended with just two wins.
He could’ve suffered through nine separate heart-aching games spread over two seasons that would have clinched bowl eligibility only to see the Cats fall short.
Some of those, like the season finale last year when Kentucky coughed up a 21-point lead at home to its biggest rival, are more painful than others.
So while Kentucky would have liked to have gotten that sixth win a game or two ago, and while there were some missed opportunities along the way this season, it seems only right that the Cats most likely will earn their all-important sixth win on Senior Day at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
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“That’s what the focus has been on: I came here to change the program around and this is an opportunity to do so on the last Senior Day game,” senior running back Jojo Kemp said.
Junior quarterback Stephen Johnson said earning the sixth win for the seniors on their Senior Day has been discussed a lot in the UK locker room.
“It means a lot to them,” Johnson said. “I know it’s their last home game. I know it’s been a while for these guys with the last three seasons they’ve had. So, this game really means a lot.”
Getting to six wins and bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010, when all 14 of the players to be honored on Senior Day were still in high school, is important to all involved, tight end C.J. Conrad said.
“To send these seniors away with a win would be a great-case scenario, plus for it to be our sixth win would mean a bowl game.”
While the family time, the tear-stained cheeks and the familiar crooning of “My Old Kentucky Home” will be great and all, senior defensive back Blake McClain still wants more.
“To be honest, this is another game,” he said. “I want to go bowling. That bowl game is Senior Night for me.”
Standing in UK’s way on Saturday is FCS opponent Austin Peay, which has lost 26 straight games and hasn’t won since Oct. 18, 2014.
But it’s not about the opponent, Cats coaches and players said all week.
“We’d like to have these seniors go out on a winning note and play well and look good and play good for our home fans as well,” Coach Mark Stoops said.
Through the ups and downs of the past four years, including some serious growing pains early this season, it’s the seniors and their leadership that have been key, Stoops said.
He hopes the team can find the proper way to thank them Saturday.
“During the tough times of this season, I don’t know if we would’ve grown if we didn’t have strong seniors,” he said. “There’s not very many of them, but they’re good people. They’re good players and they mean a lot to me and this program.”
Playing through pain
It wasn’t your imagination. On the field at Tennessee, athletic trainers popped the shoulder of tight end C.J. Conrad back into place after an acrobatic catch near the goal line.
“It just comes out every once in a while,” Conrad said Tuesday. “It did it earlier in the season and then when I landed on it when I caught that ball. That’s kind of what happened.”
But Conrad, who came back into the game later, said he’d take the pain again if it would help build the confidence of his quarterback.
Johnson and Conrad have had so many missed connections — many that could’ve been touchdowns — this season that it has become a bit of a team joke.
Conrad wanted to make sure Johnson knew he was willing to go to great lengths to make a catch for him.
“Even though it wasn’t the most perfect throw in the world, I wanted to show him with that catch that it’s all right,” said Conrad of his first catch since Oct. 22. “Maybe he’s feeling more pressure because I haven’t been making those plays for him. I have to do my job and make plays for him as well.”
The two players have been working hard on reconnecting this season, said Conrad, who has 14 grabs for 217 yards and three touchdowns, but no TDs since Sept. 17.
“I’m the type of tight end that feels like I have to make those plays for him,” Conrad said. “That’s why I’ve been frustrated in myself. They haven’t been the easiest balls, but I feel like I could’ve come down with some of them.”
News and notes
Kentucky had a plethora of star power on both sides of the ball get dinged up against Tennessee and Georgia, including both cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry, linebackers Jordan Jones and Josh Allen as well as wide receiver Jeff Badet and Conrad among others.
Stoops mentioned this week that safety Mike Edwards had missed a full week of practice before the game against the Vols.
So don’t be surprised to see limited playing time (if any playing time at all) for some UK players, especially if the game gets out of hand early.
“We’re in decent shape,” Stoops said when asked if he expected all players to be available. “There’s a few guys banged up but we’ll be all right.”
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said every banged-up player has contributed in practice this week but wasn’t specific. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be full strength,” he said.
Eleven seniors will be honored in a pregame ceremony as will juniors Dylan Greenberg, Alexander Montgomery and Ramsey Meyers. All plan to forgo their senior seasons of eligibility, Stoops said this week.
▪ Running back Benny Snell needs just 75 yards over the next two games to top Moe Williams for most rushing yards for a freshman in school history. Snell and junior Boom Williams need just 1 more yard to break the school record for combined rushing yards by a pair of players set in 1974 by Sonny Collins and Mike Fanuzzi.
UK scores, schedule
(Home games in capital letters)
Sept. 3: SOUTHERN MISS (L, 44-35)
Sept. 10: At Florida (L, 45-7)
Sept. 17: NEW MEXICO ST. (W, 62-42)
Sept. 24: SOUTH CAROLINA (W, 17-10)
Oct. 1: At Alabama (L, 34-6)
Oct. 8: VANDERBILT (W, 20-13)
Oct. 22: MISSISSIPPI STATE (W, 40-38)
Oct. 29: At Missouri (W, 35-21)
Nov. 5: GEORGIA (L, 27-24)
Nov. 12: At Tennessee (L, 49-36)
Nov. 19: AUSTIN PEAY, 4:30 p.m.
Nov. 26: At Louisville
UTSA at Texas A&M, noon
La.-Lafayette at Georgia, noon
Florida at LSU, 1
Missouri at Tennessee, 3:30
Western Carolina at South Carolina, 4
Austin Peay at Kentucky, 4:30
Chattanooga at Alabama, 7
Arkansas at Miss. State, 7
Alabama A&M at Auburn, 7:30
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, 8