UK Football

An old streak calls for a 'new Kentucky'

Reading some of the quotes coming out of the University of Kentucky and University of Tennessee camps all week, one would think that the Volunteers' 25-game winning streak over the Wildcats was an irrelevant side note to Saturday's game.

The Vols swear up and down that it's no big deal.

"We do hear a little about it," senior linebacker Nick Reveiz said.

"But it really doesn't mean anything. Every year different players join the team who have never been a part of the Kentucky rivalry. They barely know anything about it. This year is a different year, we have a different team. We have different coaches. The streak doesn't mean anything. At 12:21, when the ball is kicked off, nobody really cares about that."

UT Coach Derek Dooley added, "I don't think that any of that talk is going to help our players prepare and play better on Saturday."

As for the Wildcats, they're sick of hearing about it.

"We don't need to hear anything about the streak or how many times we've lost," senior tailback Derrick Locke said. "We know that. We're in Kentucky. But it is getting kind of old, and it would be a nice legacy to leave saying we ended the streak."

The teams have been focusing on what will happen between the lines in what looks on paper to be an even matchup. Both teams have high-powered offenses and question marks on defense, and both teams have something to play for.

Tennessee (5-6) is attempting to gain bowl eligibility with its sixth win. Kentucky (6-5) is hoping to improve its bowl position and, of course, end the streak.

The Vols' hold on the Cats represents the longest active winning streak in an uninterrupted series between major college opponents.

Only four times previously during the streak — in which Tennessee boasts an average margin of victory of almost 21 points — has Kentucky entered the game with a better record than Tennessee owned.

The Cats are well aware of the opportunity at hand, with Locke calling Saturday's showdown the most significant game of his career.

"By far, this is going to be the biggest," Locke said. "It's not going to be just a regular-season game. Everybody knows it's more than that."

Tennessee dominated the series by recording numerous blowouts in the 1990s and early 2000s, but the Wildcats had plenty of opportunities to end the streak during the Rich Brooks era.

Kentucky physically whipped UT in Knoxville in 2006 but lost 17-12. Kentucky arguably had the better team in 2007, which was Brooks' best UK squad. But a potential game-winning 35-yard Lones Seiber field goal was blocked in the second overtime and UT held on in four overtimes, 52-50. Last season, Kentucky rallied late to force overtime before falling 30-24.

"There have been times when we've felt like we could have gotten by with not having the better team but just playing better," UK quarterback Mike Hartline said. "They always say it doesn't matter who the best team is; it's who plays the best. We're preparing like we want to play the best. We've got guys who can make plays and do some things, we've just got to make sure we play 60 minutes and don't shoot ourselves in the foot like we have in the past."

Kentucky looked like the better team earlier this season.

The Wildcats knocked off eventual Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champion South Carolina while the Vols were laboring through a stretch where they lost six of seven with the only win being in overtime against Alabama-Birmingham.

But the Vols have rallied to win three straight and will be playing for bowl eligibility Saturday afternoon.

"At the beginning of the season, I didn't think they were any good; I'll be honest," Locke said. "But as it got close to the middle and end of the season, I was like, 'This is the old Tennessee.' It's a battle now. You've really got to get ready. It's going to be a game now."

UK freshman Tyler Robinson, who grew up in Alcoa, Tenn., just miles from Knoxville, said the Vols also know it's going to be a game.

"When I was a kid, it was like, 'We're playing Kentucky, we're going to win,'" Robinson said. "But now that's changed. We've kind of made a name for ourselves.

"Now they know they're not playing old Kentucky. They're playing new Kentucky."