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Kentucky Football Finishes 2-10, 0-8 in Conference for Second Straight Year

This article appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

When Mark Stoops accepted the Kentucky head coaching job last November, he acknowledged times would be trying while he and his staff rebuilt the program. The first season, presumably his toughest if everything goes the way he envisions it, finished Saturday with a 27-14 loss to Tennessee at Commonwealth Stadium.

Kentucky finished its first season under Stoops with a 2-10 record and 0-8 in conference play for the second straight year. The Wildcats have now lost 16 SEC games in a row, with their last league win coming against Tennessee in the season finale two years ago on Nov. 26, 2011. Kentucky has now finished 2-10, 0-8 in consecutive seasons.

“It’s always difficult, probably most difficult for the seniors that come in in with a coaching change,” Stoops said. “A bunch of new coaches, new schemes, new everything, and I thought those guys really handled themselves well. You know, really continued to fight and tried to lead us through the end of the year, so I appreciate those guys.

“I think, you know, we see it within our program maybe more. It’s tough at times,” he said. “It’s frustrating. We know that we are laying a foundation in our program, and everybody in that locker room knows that we are going to get back to work here real soon. Like, Monday. Be ready to go and push forward for the future.”

Saturday was the last time for the foreseeable future the Tennessee game will end Kentucky’s regular season. It’s been that way each season since 1952, but the Kentucky-Louisville game will move to the 12th game for each team beginning next season.

The Volunteers (5-7, 2-6) got on the board on the second play from scrimmage in the game, a 60-yard Rajion Neal touchdown run nearly untouched up the middle. From there, the Tennessee defense took over. The Wildcats crossed into Tennessee territory on three of their first four drives; the first ended with a missed Joe Mansour field-goal attempt from 53 yards, and the other two that crossed the 50 ended with punts.

By the time Kentucky scored on a 19-yard pass down the right sideline from Maxwell Smith to Anthony Kendrick, Tennessee held a 20-7 lead.

Kentucky’s next score came with 3:41 to play in the game on a 14-yard pass from Smith to junior Javess Blue, completing a 12-play, 99-yard drive. Down 27-14 with less than four minutes to play, Kentucky’s onside-kick attempt was unsuccessful.

Smith started at quarterback over Jalen Whitlow, who has been fighting neck spasms and a sprain to the AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder over the past week. Whitlow only came in for one play: a third-quarter handoff to Dyshawn Mobley, and that was it. Smith took the rest of the reps at quarterback. He finished with 254 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked five times.

“It’s probably as good as he’s played all year,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of Smith. “I think there’s some things he can do better, but I think he probably did play his best football. We’ve got to protect him better.”

Said Smith: “I thought I played all right. A couple bad mistakes. A couple missed throws, but I thought I played OK.”

In all, Kentucky crossed in to Tennessee territory seven times and only scored twice. On one third-quarter drive, the Wildcats had 3rd and goal at the 1-yard line. A pass fell incomplete on third down (Jordan Aumiller caught the pass streaking across the back of the end zone, but he was well out of bounds), and Mobley was stopped for no gain on fourth.

Mobley had a run in the first quarter of 27 yards, and he ripped off a 53-yarder in the third (which set up the goal-line turnover on downs). He finished with 143 yards, easily topping his career-best 92 yards set last week against Georgia.

Senior Avery Williamson finished with six tackles, completing his senior season with 102 and finishing his career with 296. Senior defensive tackle Donte Rumph led the Wildcats with 10 tackles Saturday. He also forced a fumble in the third quarter.

“I feel like I left my leadership and the way I play—guys are going to see that on film, and I feel like I instilled the leadership qualities in a lot of guys out here,” Williamson said. “They really look up to me, and I’m glad for that. And I’m really hoping that’s going to carry over. I know that’s going to carry over, these coaches are going to make that carry over. I really feel like I laid the ground, the foundation for this program. It’s going to get better. It’s got no choice but to get better.”

Photo: UK Coach Mark Stoops/James Pennington