But to accomplish, this, theyll have to first secure a road victory over the Tennessee Volunteers, something that hasnt been done in over three decades. A win Saturday would very likely lead to a 10-win regular season for Kentucky and put them in prime position to appear in one of its most prominent bowl games in school history.
None of Mark Stoops Kentucky players was alive the last time the Wildcats won in Neyland Stadium, in 1984.
Is UT Vols football in danger of getting passed by Kentucky long-term?
Stoops figures this crop of Wildcats shouldnt care that Kentucky has a 16-game road losing streak in the Tennessee-Kentucky series, so he wont discuss it with his team.
Tennessees most experienced returning offensive line were the underperforming Richmond (13 starts), Hall (12) coming off a lengthy injury layoff and knee surgery and Smith (12), a true sophomore whose career now is jeopardy due to his unfortunate medical condition. Ryan Johnson (four starts), Devante Brooks (four), Tatum (three) and Locklear (two) accounted for the rest of the total, and all of them came from those players getting pressed into action late last season when the offensive line was ravaged by injuries.
I think just beating Tennessee is important to us, Stoops said at his weekly news conference. Whether theres a streak involved or not, why should that make a difference to our team? They dont know anything about 34 years ago. To be honest with you, they really dont care.
Kentucky can end another big streak on Saturday
Theres little comparison between this Kentucky team and many of those that lost in Knoxville during the streak.
These Wildcats (7-2, 5-2 SEC) are ranked 12th nationally. They squandered their chance to win the SEC East when they fell 34-17 to Georgia last week, but they are still well-positioned for their first 10-win season since 1977. A New Years Six bowl bid remains in play. Already, they snapped a 31-game losing streak to Florida this season.
Kentucky has a lot of confidence, Vols defensive end Kyle Phillips said. Theyve had a great season. They have a great team this year, and theyre going to come in ready to play, and we have to be prepared for it.
Kentucky ranks third in the SEC in scoring defense and fourth in total defense. Its a veteran unit. Kentuckys starting defense against Georgia included seven seniors, two juniors and two sophomores.
Comparatively, Tennessees starting defense last week against Charlotte featured four seniors, five juniors and two freshmen.
On offense, Kentucky started three seniors, three juniors and five sophomores. Tennessees starting offense featured four juniors and seven sophomores.
A point of contrast comes on the offensive line, where Kentucky starts two seniors, a junior and two sophomores. UTs O-line features four sophomores and a junior.
Kentucky has several key players battling injury, while another will miss the first half Saturday due to suspension.
Theyve been in the system, and they understand it, Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said of Kentuckys roster. Its obvious they have a lot of experience. Theyve been in close games, and they found a way to win. Theyve won on the road, and theyve won at places that are tough to win at.
Kentucky redshirt sophomore Terry Wilson has thrown for 267 and 226 yards over the past two games, his two best passing performances of the season. For the year, the junior-college transfer has completed 67.6 percent of his throws for 1,214 yards with six touchdown passes and six interceptions and run for 418 yards and three TDs. Tennessee redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano performed well against UK a season ago, completing 18 of 23 passes for 242 yards. A 6-4, 209-pound pocket passer, Guarantano is completing 65.4 percent of his throws for 1,571 yards with nine TDs vs. only two picks.
UKs coaching staff also has continuity. Stoops is in his sixth season as UKs coach. Kentuckys seventh victory triggered an extension for Stoops, whose contract now runs through June 2024. UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and defensive coordinator Matt House are in their third season on Stoops staff.
Running back Benny Snell Jr. leads the SEC in rushing yards, and linebacker Josh Allen is arguably the SECs best defensive player. Both outperformed their recruiting rankings.
How No. 11 Kentucky (7-2, 5-2 SEC) and Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
Kentucky was the only SEC team to offer Snell, an Ohio native whom Ohio State did not offer. Allen had no other offers from major programs.
Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks about Saturdays opponent Tennessee. The Volunteers are 4-5 overall and 2-4 in the SEC. The two teams play in Knoxville on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.
Its a very good job by Mark and his staff evaluating and finding the right guys that can develop and play in their system, Pruitt said when asked about UK landing Allen.
Stoops is poised to assemble a seventh straight recruiting class ranked in the top 40 by the 247Sports composite. In the seven years before Stoops, Kentucky had one top-40 class.
It seems safe to assume that a University of Kentucky football team has never faced as weird a dynamic to finish a season as the 2018 Wildcats do.
During that 16-year stretch, Tennessee had a 44-1 record in games played against Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. A 1992 loss to the Gamecocks was the only defeat, coming in South Carolinas first year in the SEC.
In those years, Tennessee was in the midst of a 26-game winning streak over Kentucky and a 22-game winning streak over Vandy. From 89-04, its average margin of victory over Kentucky was 25 points.