KNOXVILLE — All week Mark Stoops asked his team for a complete game.
"We just need to play a complete game," the Kentucky coach said. "We haven't played a complete football game."
Instead what he got on Saturday night at Tennessee was a complete meltdown, a 50-16 loss.
It was the Cats' 21st consecutive road loss with their next chance to snap that coming at the place they last won a road game: at Louisville in two weeks.
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Kentucky mercifully gets a bye to pick itself up after five straight losses, including the last two by a combined 113-47 margin.
In those two games, the Cats surrendered 1,070 yards. With the 511 yards given up to the Volunteers on Saturday, UK's defense has now given up 500-plus yards in five different games this season.
But Stoops wasn't using words like "embarrassed" as he did multiple times after the loss against Georgia the week before.
"I'm proud of them," the head coach said matter-of-factly after the loss, UK's 29th in the last 30 against the Volunteers. "They did some good things. We're 5-6 and we're in the middle of a tough stretch right now.
"I don't think — and I would never say this before the game, and I'm never gonna give an out for any of us — we didn't have a lot in our tank."
In front of an announced sellout crowd of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium, Kentucky looked like a team running on fumes.
Tennessee had scored its most points of the season with a quarter still to go. The Vols' previous high for points this season was 45 in overtime at South Carolina and over Chattanooga. It was the first time since 1994 that UK has given up 50 points or more in back-to-back games.
"We're building something special here," Tennessee Coach Butch Jones said. "We've got a long way to go, but I'm proud of our players."
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who sat out most of the fourth quarter, finished with 297 yards passing for three touchdowns, two of them to Von Pearson and another to Jason Croom.
"Getting Von Pearson back to where he's 100 percent healthy really gives our offense a spark," Jones said. "We had some big splash plays early which really helped us in terms of seizing momentum."
That last shot to Croom, a 52-yarder to start the second half, ended any hope of a Kentucky resurgence after the Cats scored 10 points — including a UK record-breaking 54-yard field goal for Austin MacGinnis — in the final 1:30 of the first half to make it 33-13 at the break.
Dobbs also added 48 yards rushing and a 9-yard touchdown run that gave Tennessee (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) a 30-3 advantage with 4:09 to go in the first half.
Pearson's two touchdowns, a 21-yarder and a 16-yarder, coupled with a 23-yard interception return for Brian Randolph helped give the Volunteers a 20-3 lead with 13 minutes left to go in the first half.
"We were exploited at certain positions," Stoops said. "As I said going into this game, they stress you because of what they're doing offensively, and they had some very good playmakers that made us miss. They made some very big plays and we didn't."
Tennessee came into the game averaging 131.4 rushing yards a game. After three quarters, the Vols had 171 and finished with 214, including 118 yards and a touchdown for freshman running back Jalen Hurd.
They averaged 235.7 yards passing coming into the game and finished with 297. "We were able to take care of the football, move the ball very well tonight," Dobbs said. "We're clicking on all cylinders, which is very good."
Javess Blue had a career-best six catches for 131 yards for the Cats (5-6, 2-6), who have one game left at Louisville on Nov. 29 to get bowl eligible. UK started the season 5-1 before losing five straight.
Patrick Towles, who left the game for a few minutes in the first half with an ankle sprain, came back and finished with 168 yards passing and 29 yards rushing with one touchdown.
"When it happened, I kind of struggled getting up on that toe and it hurt," the quarterback said. "So I went in there, got some stuff figured out with the medical staff and I was able to go. I wasn't going to sit out there and watch that happen."
Much like Stoops, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he was proud of Kentucky's effort, even in the loss.
The Cats managed 262 yards of offense, including 94 of them on the ground. But Towles was the Cats' top rusher with 29 yards.
"The only time I'm ever embarrassed is if our kids don't fight and they don't play hard," Brown said. "That's the time when you're embarrassed. I didn't get the feeling like that, that we did that today."
Josh Forrest finished with a career-best 20 tackles for the Cats. Senior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree added his own career high with 15 tackles, two for a loss and one quarterback sack.