Gary B. Graves AP Sports Writer
November 29, 2013
LEXINGTON (AP) — Tennessee and Kentucky desperately want to end the season on a positive by ending losing streaks.
The visiting Volunteers (4-7, 1-6 Southeastern Conference) will be trying to halt a four-game slide Saturday when they face the Wildcats (2-9, 0-7) , whose three-game skid isn’t their only run of futility.
Kentucky’s last SEC victory came in 2011 against Tennessee, a 10-7 victory that snapped a 26-game losing streak to the Vols. Fifteen straight conference losses have followed including last week’s 59-17 drubbing at Georgia — a season low for the rebuilding program.
“There’s no denying it, that was a blow to our progress and that’s disappointing,” Kentucky first-year coach Mark Stoops said this week, “because it’s a mentality to me more than anything.
“So, we need to get over it, bounce back and move forward, but throughout the year I did think we were improving.”
Tennessee meanwhile will try to rebound from last week’s stunning last-minute loss to Vanderbilt by beating its border rival for the 76th time and winning its first SEC contest since upsetting then-No. 11 South Carolina 23-21 on Oct. 19.
“Our guys have always been very upbeat, very positive,” Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek said. “They’ve faced a lot of adversity, especially our seniors, over their time here at Tennessee. We want to send them out on a winning note.”
Kentucky has a similar goal for 16 seniors who will be playing their final games. The list includes several defensive starters, whose agenda will be giving no ground to a veteran Tennessee offensive line that has put running back Raijon Neal on the cusp of a 1,000-yard rushing season.
Tennessee’s heartbreaking 14-10 loss to Vanderbilt assured the program’s fourth consecutive losing season, which hasn’t happened since 1903-06. Losing to Kentucky would also provide the first eight-loss season in school history, a milestone the Volunteers aim to avoid.
“It’s very important because this season, it’s been disappointing for us,” senior defensive end Marlon Walls said. “But at the same time, we don’t want to go out like that as being the worst team in Tennessee history. That’s what’s at stake right now.”
Here are five things to watch as Tennessee and Kentucky try to end losing streaks:
KENTUCKY’S QUARTERBACK: Jalen Whitlow has received treatment this week for a lingering A/C joint injury in his left non-throwing shoulder as well as neck spasms, but Stoops said “everything has checked out OK to this point” and he should start. Just in case, Maxwell Smith stands ready after relieving an injured Whitlow in last week’s drubbing in Georgia.
JOSHUA DOBBS: Life has been tough for Tennessee’s freshman quarterback forced into action because of injuries. He has thrown five interceptions without a touchdown pass but has completed 59 percent of his attempts for 496 yards in four games with three starts since Justin Worley sustained a right thumb injury against Alabama.
YOUR TURN: Kentucky senior running back Raymond Sanders is suspended for his final game for violating team rules, which opens things up for Jojo Kemp and Dyshawn Mobley in the backfield. Kemp is the Wildcats’ second-leading rusher with 460 yards on 95 carries with three touchdowns but Mobley made his first start against Georgia and gained a career-best 92 yards on 10 carries including a 69-yard TD run.
PASS RUSHING: This category favors the Wildcats, whose 22 sacks rank seventh in the SEC while the Volunteers are last with just 13. At the same time, has allowed a conference-worst 32 while Tennessee stands fifth after yielding just 14.WELCOME TO THE RIVALRY: To be honest, it’s hard to call this a real rivalry considering the Volunteers hold a commanding 75-24-9 advantage in the series. But for Stoops and first-year Tennessee counterpart Butch Jones, it’s their introduction to the border battle and both coaches would love their teams to grab bragging rights and carry some momentum into the offseason after disappointing stretch runs.