UK Football

Twenty-four years too long

Saturday night's Tennessee-Kentucky game is shaping up as one of the biggest to hit Commonwealth Stadium in years.

At stake is second place in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division, a probable trip to a New Year's Day bowl, and, oh, yeah, that 24-game UT winning streak over UK.

If that weren't enough, 26 seniors who form one of the most successful classes in school history will be honored during pre-game festivities.

While a few tears will be shed, the UK players know they can't let themselves get too emotionally caught up in the moment. The Cats are just 2-4 under Rich Brooks on Senior Day, including last year's 31-24 loss to Vanderbilt.

The Cats have seen first hand the past two weeks how Senior Day can go awry. They beat Vanderbilt 24-13 in its home finale and followed that with a 34-27 win over Georgia on the Bulldogs' Senior Day in Athens.

"We have not played well on Senior Day," Brooks said. "We just ruined two other teams' Senior Day. Sometimes your seniors get too much focused on the Senior Day deal and not on the team you're playing. And the underclassmen kind of get lost in the shuffle because the focus is on the seniors. My goal is to get our team to enjoy the festivities, but they'll enjoy it a lot more if they look back on Senior Day with a win that put them in second place in the SEC East. And it wouldn't be looked back on as fondly if it was a loss. Hopefully, I can get that message across."

The UK players are confident they'll be ready to go once the ball is kicked off.

"It's going to be an emotional experience," senior center Jorge Gonzalez said. "There's no way you can't be emotional about it. It's your last game. You've just got to focus in, control yourself and try and play within yourself and not try to do too much."

Randall Cobb admits he'll have to keep his emotions in check as well. Cobb grew up near the Tennessee campus, but he wasn't offered a scholarship by then-coach Phil Fulmer. In his first game against his hometown school last year, Cobb started at quarterback and accounted for 45 yards of offense in a 28-10 loss.

"I think I was too jacked up," he said. "I was worried more about my emotions than preparation. That's one thing I'm trying to correct this year. It's going to be another emotional game for me this year as well as the seniors, and so much else is going to be going on. We just have to look at the big picture."

Tennessee Coach Lane Kiffin said he expects to see Cobb at peak performance on Saturday. He lamented Cobb getting out of the Vols' backyard.

"People always think in recruiting about making your own team better," Kiffin said. "But if you miss on a guy and he goes within your conference and you don't take him, then it's a double-whammy. Not only is he not playing for you, but then you have to play (against) him every season. This is a situation of that, not only would he make us better and be playing for us and scoring touchdowns for us, but also he wouldn't be on their team. You are talking about potentially a 14- to 21-point difference in one player about whether he signed with Tennessee or went to Kentucky."

Derrick Locke said he expects Tennessee to come in with the right frame of mind and that the Cats need to be ready to match it.

"Tennessee's going to come in here and they're going to bring a lot of swag and a lot of energy, thinking they're going to win and expecting to win, and I don't blame them," the junior said. "If I was them, I'd be like, 'Whatever, we're going to win this game. Kentucky always finds a way to lose.' "

Locke has a hard time putting a finger on why Tennessee always comes out on top.

"I don't know what it is," Locke said. "I don't know if it's the fact that we're always losing (to Tennessee), if we're scared, too many nerves, too much pressure. But we've got to find a way to get it done. Twenty five years is ridiculous. I'm just keeping it real. That's ridiculous."

One thing's for sure: If the Cats can look past the pre-game festivities and pull off the win, the post-game party scene figures to be off the hook.

"If we win that game they're going to tear Lexington apart," senior offensive guard Christian Johnson said. "I feel like the fans and the citizens of Lexington are going to run crazy until the sun comes up. And I'm going to be a part of it."

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