It was a hangover that lasted a week.
A week after playing for — and falling in — the Southeastern Conference East Division championship game to Georgia, No. 11 Kentucky stumbled and bumbled its way through its final league game of the season, falling 24-7 to Tennessee on Saturday.
Cats Coach Mark Stoops worried about the potential for this on Monday after the loss to the Bulldogs.
“We have to be motivated the same way again this week and in each and every week, and that gets to be the challenge as you get through the grind of the season,” he said. “Sometimes that monotony sets in and we can’t let that happen.”
Hard to know if it was monotony or apathy or something else altogether, but Kentucky didn’t have it at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, falling at the home of the Vols for the 17th straight time. The Cats (7-3, 5-3 SEC) haven’t won here since 1984.
The first half was both a comedy and a tragedy for Kentucky, which went down 17-0 in the final seconds as Jarrett Guarantano tossed up a 39-yard pass into the end zone and Marquez Callaway came down with it.
The Volunteers offense was among the worst in the country coming into the game, averaging just 333 total yards. It had 241 yards at the break, including 175 yards passing.
Tennessee (5-5, 2-5) finished with 414 yards behind Guarantano, who completed 12 of 20 passes for 197 yards. The sophomore quarterback had touchdown passes to both Callaway and tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson, the latter gave the Volunteers a 24-0 advantage in the third quarter.
The Kentucky offense, which has struggled late this season, struggled some more in the second quarter, managing just one yard on 15 plays. It had just 68 yards at the halftime break.
The Cats finished with 262 total yards, including just 77 on the ground. Terry Wilson completed 21 of 34 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown to C.J. Conrad in the third quarter when UK already was down by 24 points.
Benny Snell had 81 yards for Kentucky in the loss, its second in a row after starting the season with seven wins in its first eight games and a No. 9 national ranking from the College Football Playoff Committee.
Tennessee opened the scoring with a 19-yard field goal by Brent Cimaglia. That the drive ended only in three points was a win for the UK defense, which gave up a big 38-yard pass play to open the drive.
Kentucky’s attempt to tie it 3-all early in the second quarter ended in a miss from 51 yards for freshman Chance Poore, who had a kick blocked in the second half as well.
It looked like a promising start of a drive for UK, but it stalled after a bobbled snap put UK at third-and-18.
Things got a bit chippy late in the second half as Tennessee pulled ahead 10-0 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Tim Jordan. It was helped by a massive 34-yard throw by Guarantano as Josh Allen drilled him into the ground.
There was tons of back-and-forth between the two teams, which led to officials calling unsportsmanlike penalties on every player on both teams.
The Cats will face Middle Tennessee at Kroger Field next Saturday for Senior Day before they face Louisville in the regular-season finale at Cardinal Stadium.