A little late, but three takeaways from Kentucky football’s 24-7 loss at Tennessee on Saturday:
1. Neyland Stadium continues to be a house of horrors
Kentucky’s losing streak in Knoxville has stretched to 17 games. UK hasn’t won on Rocky Top since 1984. The last six losses have all been by 10-or-more points. The Cats haven’t come within single digits of a host Tennessee since a 17-12 loss to the Vols in 2006, back when Rick Brooks was the head coach. The closest they’ve come to stopping the streak was a 28-24 loss in 1988.
Here’s the thing, Tennessee has been mediocre at best of late. And the Vols win whenever Kentucky comes to visit. Tennessee was 5-7 in 2012, yet beat Joker Phillips 37-17 in his last game as Kentucky’s coach. UT was 6-6 in 2010, yet beat the Cats 24-14 in Knoxville. Tennessee finished 5-7 in 2008, yet beat Brooks’ Cats 28-10.
This year’s Tennessee team entered Saturday 4-5 overall and just 1-4 in the SEC. It had struggled to beat Charlotte 14-3 last week. Kentucky entered 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the SEC. Mark Stoops’ troops had beaten Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Missouri. It snapped a 19-game losing streak at Florida. But it couldn’t beat Tennessee in Knoxville.
Kentucky’s losing streak at Tennessee
2. The offense is bad and getting worse
After gaining just 262 total yards on Saturday, Kentucky’s offense has dropped to 113th nationally out of 130 FBS teams in total offense. Kentucky is averaging 346.9 yards per game, which puts the Cats one spot and 4.6 yards behind a 2-8 Louisville team.
Eddie Gran’s offense has now gone seven straight games without reaching 400 yards of total offense. Add the final three games of last season and the Cats have not reached 400 yards in 10 of their last 13 games. They finished last season by gaining 262 yards against Georgia and 338 each against Louisville and Northwestern.
UK also rushed for just 77 yards Saturday, the third straight game in which it failed to reach 100 yards on the ground. UK rushed for 91 yards at Missouri and 84 yards against Georgia before Saturday. Throw in the 70 yards at Texas A&M and UK has failed to hit the century mark rushing in four of its last five games.
Kentucky rushing yards the first five games: 254.2 per game. Kentucky rushing yards the last five games: 120.4.
Benny Snell rushing yards the first five games: 127.8 yards per game. Benny Snell rushing yards the last five games: 89.8 yards per game.
Kentucky has now slipped to 51st nationally in rushing with 187.3 yards per game.
3. They’re not robots
That’s a John Calipari line, but I still think it has a football adaptation here. As I wrote in my column, I think the Cats had a letdown after the 34-17 loss to Georgia in a game that decided the SEC East title. The coaches surely tried hard to prevent it. The players denied it was a factor. In my mind, it happened just the same.
I was on Tom Leach’s radio show on Friday and we discussed the possibility. It’s difficult to prepare a team emotionally for 12 straight games in a long college football season. And this Kentucky team had been through several tough, close, nail-biting type games.
UK was tied with Mississippi State 7-7 before blowing it open in the fourth quarter for a 28-7 win. It failed to score in the second half of a 24-10 win over South Carolina. It went to overtime before losing 20-14 at Texas A&M. It beat Vanderbilt by just a touchdown, 14-7. It needed a miraculous rally — and a controversial pass interference penalty — to beat Missouri 15-14.
Then there was all the hype before the Georgia game, the most important game a UK football team had played since 1951. The winner went to Atlanta for the SEC title game. The loser stayed home. Kentucky lost. And apparently could not get over the disappointment.
That’s not to excuse UK’s performance on Saturday, but it happens. So a 7-1 Kentucky team is now 7-3 with two games remaining. To win 10 games it must beat Middle Tennessee at Kroger Field, Louisville at Cardinal Stadium and a to-be-determined opponent in a bowl game. Simple as that.