By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky had the ball for over 41 minutes, ran 71 plays to 46 for Tennessee, rushed for 302 yards and Tennessee had two touchdowns negated by video reviews.
So how did Kentucky lose 17-13 to Tennessee Saturday night, especially after having a 13-0 lead after scoring on its first two possession, including a 10-minute drive to open the game?
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops called it a “tough pill to swallow” after UK couldn’t score on two plays from the Tennessee 2-yard line in the final two minutes that would have won the game. Kentucky fans were calling it a lot worse than that on social media after Tennessee — a team that opened the season losing to Georgia State — continued its domination over the Wildcats. Maybe it was not the butt-kicking the Vols put on UK last year but this one probably hurt way, way more.
“You felt like you really do so many good things and control the game in so many ways but come up short. Both teams were desperate for the win. We came up short. It’s very tough,” Stoops said.
The Kentucky coach said Tennessee’s receivers made “50-50 contested catches” that changed the game. But Kentucky only throwing for 25 yards hurt even more and Stoops refused to go to Sawyer Smith when the Vols obviously has the line of scrimmage stacked to stop Lynn Bowden, the receiver turned quarterback who does his best but threw a costly interception with UK up 13-0 in the first half.
“It was there but was just under thrown or a touch late (throwing). That play is going to haunt me for a while,” Stoops said. “We’re not overly explosive right now. We’re pretty one-dimensional, and I think everybody knows that. We’re trying the best we can. … I realize we’re not perfect and could do a lot of things better and different.”
Still, this is a game Kentucky had to win and should have won. The Cats squandered so many scoring opportunities after they got the ball into Tennessee territory but made no noticeable adjustments after the Vols decided to not let Bowden beat them running after the first series. Stoops said Tennessee “limited our opportunities for shots” with way they played defense but pointed to UK “stalling” too often in Tennessee territory.
“Just a game that we felt we had and from here on out this will be on our mind. We have to finish games, work harder and get smarter,” defensive end Josh Paschal, who blocked a punt, said. “This is a tough loss. We had them. This is a time a team can split up or come together. I trust we are going to come together. I know everyone of my teammates’ has my back. We learn from these games.
“Our leaders have to lead like we do but this is time where everyone has to look in mirror and make sure everyone does their job for the team whether you are on scout team or a starter. We can all do better.”