UK Football

John Clay: To get to a bowl, Kentucky will have to earn it

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, right, looks on as Mississippi State University scores a touchdown in the third quarter, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, right, looks on as Mississippi State University scores a touchdown in the third quarter, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

Coaches preach the one-game-at-a-time ethos because that's what coaches do. We sportswriters aren't coaches, however, so we can peer into the future as far as we'd like. So let us exercise that right.

Kentucky's football season now boils down to one and three. Stuck on five victories, Mark Stoops' Wildcats need one more win to be bowl eligible. Three chances remain to accomplish that. And it's not going to be easy.

First up is Georgia on Saturday. The Bulldogs should arrive at Commonwealth Stadium growling. Heaven knows their fans are barking.

Mark Richt's team did what Mark Richt's teams have had the aggravating tendency to do in recent years — lose a game the Bulldogs had no business losing. Last Saturday in Jacksonville, the reeling Florida Gators pitched in to save Will Muschamp's job by shocking Georgia 38-20.

Georgia is now in a dogfight, as it were, to win the SEC East. Though it owns the tiebreaker with Missouri thanks to a 34-0 win over the Tigers last month, Georgia trails Mizzou by one in the loss column.

Thus the Bulldogs can't afford another banana peel slip, especially with star tailback Todd Gurley poised to return for the Dawgs' Nov. 15 clash with visiting Auburn. That's a make-or-break game for Richt.

It also bears mentioning that Georgia's strength is Kentucky's weakness. The Bulldogs rank third in the SEC in rushing offense. Kentucky is 13th against the run. Not a good fit.

After Saturday, it's on to Tennessee, as Bill Belichick might say. Kentucky hasn't conquered Neyland Stadium since 1984. In fact, The Cats rarely come close. In 14 straight Knoxville losses, all but three were by double digits. Seven were by 20 points or more.

The 4-5 Vols are no juggernaut, but they do hope to catch momentum's wave off a 45-42 overtime win at South Carolina. With a bye this week, Butch Jones' club has time to prepare for UK's visit to K-town on Nov. 15.

Plus, Tennessee might have stumbled into a quarterback. Replacing injured starter Justin Worley, Josh Dobbs threw for 301 yards and ran for 166 more in Columbia. NFL analyst Bucky Brooks wrote for that the sophomore was "an emerging superstar at the position."

Like Kentucky, the Vols haven't been bowling since 2010. Unlike Kentucky, Tennessee doesn't have to leave its home state for the rest of the regular season. Beating the Cats gets the Vols to five wins, with Missouri in Knoxville and Vanderbilt in Nashville remaining. Six is doable.

If the Cats fail at home and on the road, their bowl aspirations land on the Nov. 29 regular season finale against rival Louisville at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

The schedule-makers did U of L no favors. Before Kentucky's visit, the Cards play at Boston College on Saturday, have a week off, then go to Notre Dame on Nov. 22. While UK gets an off week before the annual Governor's Cup, Louisville spends that Saturday in South Bend.

On the other hand, Bobby Petrino finally has all his arrows in his quiver. Wide receiver DeVante Parker, who missed the season's first seven games because of a foot injury, caught 214 yards in passes against Florida State. Running back Michael Dyer, healed from a nagging hamstring problem, rushed for 173 yards against North Carolina State and 134 against FSU.

Yes, Louisville surrendered 42 points to the Seminoles, but even after giving up 577 yards, the Cards are third nationally in rushing defense, sixth in pass efficiency defense and sixth in total defense.

Did we mention Petrino is 5-1 against Kentucky — 4-0 during his first stint at Louisville, 0-1 at Arkansas and 1-0 at Western Kentucky?

It only stands to reason the Cards would love nothing more than ending the regular season by keeping Kentucky out of a bowl game.

This isn't to say the Cats can't get to six wins. It is to say that if they do, they will have earned it.

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