As much as Kentucky's players and coaches would like to forget last season and its six-game losing streak, the subject came up many times this week.
Mired in a new two-game slump, several players wanted to make it clear that they had no intention of going back into that all too familiar free fall.
On Monday afternoon, after Mark Stoops had addressed the team in its regular meeting, he sensed there was more to say and opened the floor to the players.
"It was more to make sure guys didn't put their head down or start thinking about things that happened last year," senior linebacker Josh Forrest said of the meeting, where several players talked.
There's been much discussion in the locker room as a whole about staying the course. But the players walked out of the meeting wanting to do more than the status quo.
"If we keep doing what we're doing, we're gonna keep losing," quarterback Patrick Towles said was the gist of the players' message. "We've got to keep doing extra stuff: get more film, get more recovery work, more strength stuff, more film and just prepare better.
"Last year we had a tendency to kind of get complacent toward the end of the season and I definitely don't see any hint of that right now. I don't. And I don't think that will be an issue, but I think it's important to kind of nip it early if you do see something."
As Kentucky gets ready for Tennessee, a team that has beaten it by a combined 77-30 in the last two seasons, there has been a change in attitude. Instead of the unhappy group that left Mississippi State, it's a team with a renewed focus.
"It was pretty much a discussion about how we can compete with any team in the country, we just have to believe it ... reminding each other that we have talent and good guys here and that we can go out and beat anybody," wide receiver Jeff Badet said.
The meeting not only encouraged a new mindset, but also may have helped establish some leaders in the group. No players disclosed the names of teammates who decided to address the team, but their words seemed to have made an impact.
"It was very good to see some of those guys step up and talk and get out how they feel and what we should be able to do to improve and help us win and move forward as a program," sophomore running back Boom Williams said. "It was a big step, not just for the team, but for those guys individually."
And it changes things when it's your teammate stepping up to say something, defensive lineman Matt Elam added.
"We can hear coaches talk all day, but when it's coming from your brother, your teammate, it's something that really hits you — and hits you at the heart," he said.
More than anything, Elam said he saw how much every player's heart is still in it this season.
"We definitely don't want to lose," he said. "We want to win."
Will the airing of grievances make a difference on the football field this weekend and in the weekends that follow?
That part remains to be seen, Stoops said.
"If it helps certain people, I'm all for it," Stoops said. "There was no panic button hit or anything like that. Some guys just wanted to say, 'Hey, let's focus and let's have a great week of practice and let's pick it up in certain areas.' And that's what I've seen."
Shaking things up
The tiny word "or" on the depth chart put some Kentucky seniors on notice this week, especially in the secondary with cornerback Cody Quinn and safety A.J. Stamps both fighting off freshmen for their starting spots.
Stamps and Mike Edwards are both vying for that top position and Quinn is competing with Derrick Baity.
That "or" has led to some competitive plays in practice this week, Stoops said.
"Anybody that has any pride about the work that they do or about how they play will react a certain way and I've been pleased with the reactions I've seen," he said.
As for Stamps, a UK captain all season, Stoops hopes the competition is the push the senior needs.
"All of us can do a better job and I think A.J. would be the first one to tell you that, too; he could do a better job," Stoops said, specifically mentioning missed tackles in the open field. "I do expect a lot out of him. He's a guy that's played a lot of football for us."
Another day, another mobile QB
Kentucky's defense didn't have much time for a pep talk after giving up nearly 600 yards of total offense last week to Mississippi State, most of which came via the arm and legs of Dak Prescott.
The senior quarterback torched the Cats for 117 yards and three touchdowns as well as 382 yards passing for three more scores.
"We have to do better than what we did on Saturday against a similar type of offense," UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said this week. "It's got to improve."
No time like the present for Kentucky, which will face yet another run-pass conflict-producing quarterback in Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs. The junior is sixth in the Southeastern Conference in total offense with 387 rushing yards (five touchdowns) and 1,272 passing yards (nine TDs).
"He's just one of those guys for a defensive guy, he's very aggravating because he has a great presence back there," Stoops said of Dobbs, who threw for 297 yards and rushed for 48 more, accounting for four TDs against UK last season.
And if Dobbs isn't enough of an issue for UK, there's star running back Jalen Hurd, who had 24 carries for 118 yards and a score against the Cats last year.
Kentucky is 5-9 on Oct. 31, including 3-5 at home. The Cats' last game on Halloween was a 31-24 loss to Mississippi State in 2009. UK went on to win three of its next four games and advance to face Clemson in the Music City Bowl.
■ Linebacker Jason Hatcher, who missed the Mississippi State game with an ankle injury, practiced this week and will play in the Tennessee game. Backup quarterback Drew Barker was able to practice some this week, but is a game-time decision with a shoulder injury, Stoops said Thursday.
■ A new feature has been completed at Commonwealth Stadium that adds an interactive function to the permanent Ring of Honor installed in the lower concourses during the renovations. Starting with Saturday's game, UK fans can learn more about the 45 players via the official UK Gameday app on their smart phone. The interactive Ring of Honor uses iBeacon to send information about former greats like Tim Couch and Dermontti Dawson when fans stand near the display for each individual player.