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Kentucky piles up yards but can’t keep pace with Dobbs in 49-36 loss to Tennessee in SEC finale

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

KNOXVILLE — Kentucky will have to wait a little while longer before it can clinch a winning season in the Southeastern Conference.

The Wildcats (5-5, 4-4) missed two chances at securing a runner-up finish in the conference, the latest a 49-36 setback at Tennessee Saturday, giving the Volunteers a shot at winning the Eastern division title despite a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season.

 Stephen Johnson and the Wildcats rushed for 443 yards in a 49-36 loss at Tennessee Saturday (UK Athletics Photo)

Stephen Johnson and the Wildcats rushed for 443 yards in a 49-36 loss at Tennessee Saturday (UK Athletics Photo)

Tennessee (7-3, 3-3) now sits in second place in the conference standings, a spot Kentucky held during the previous eight quarters before two straight losses eliminated the Wildcats from notching five conference victories for the first time since 1977.

“We didn’t play good enough to win,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “They played better than us and we didn’t play clean enough to win.”

Kentucky moved the ball at will against the Volunteers, at least in the open field. Inside the red zone, it was a different story. The Wildcats rushed for 446 yards, three yards shy of a school record as five players rushed for 70 yards or more. Stanley “Boom” Williams paced the Wildcats with 127 yards.

“We had a lot of quality runs and when you rush for that many yards (and don’t win), the difference is in the red zone. They capped it with touchdowns and we capped it off with field goals. When things get tighter, the window gets smaller. We had a pass or two that we have to stick in there.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

Paced by the backfield, Kentucky outgunned the Volunteers 635-599 but struggled in the red zone. Kentucky was 5-6 inside the 20-yard line.

“Our kids played physical and played hard,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “To get over the hump where we need to be, we’ve got to finish in the red zone. We’ve got to score touchdowns and not (kick) field goals especially when you’re on the road. You can’t turn it over. There are some good things to build on and some good things we’re going to take from this, at the end of the day, seven points (in the red zone) isn’t good enough on the road.”

The Wildcats failed to break the touchdown barrier in the second half and settled for a field goal on their opening drive after marching down to the Tennessee 12-yard line. On Kentucky’s next drive, the Wildcats got to the Volunteers’ 4-yard line, but a Benny Snell fumble — the first miscue of his career — put the Wildcats deeper into a hole as the Volunteers stretched the margin to 35-16 with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

“One thing we’ve got to do in the red zone is finish,” Johnson said. “When you get those third downs, you have to make sure you convert those, the third and short and third and medium in the red zone. I know that’s definitely one thing we’ll probably work on in practice this week.”

Unlike its previous trip to Knoxville, a 50-16 setback to the Volunteers, Kentucky served notice it wasn’t intimidated by past failures at Neyland Stadium and scored on its opening drive, set up by quarterback Stephen Johnson’s 75-yard scamper, the longest of his career.

Despite the confidence obtained on the first drive, the Wildcats couldn’t keep pace with the Volunteers, especially Josh Dobbs, who accounted for four touchdowns or more against Kentucky for the third straight season. Dobbs rushed for 147 yards, threw for 223 more and accounted for five touchdowns.

It was Dobbs who put the game out of reach with a 45-yard touchdown run with 11:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“He’s very good football player and he’s very talented,” Stoops said. “He’s very elusive and deceptive. He’s got good speed, very good balance and toughness. I’m glad we don’t have to see him anymore.”

Despite two straight losses, Kentucky will likely reach the postseason. In order to obtain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010, Kentucky must one of their last two regular-season games, starting Saturday against Austin Peay State University. Kentucky closes out the regular season at rival Louisville on Nov. 26.

“We have to continue to push forward,” Stoops said. “Nobody’s happy. We have to learn with every opportunity in our preparation, in games, big moments and tough environments against good football teams, you have to get better each and every day and our team has to bounce back and they will. It’s important and we’ve come a long way. We’re not going to go backward, we have to continue to push forward.”

Gametracker: Austin Peay at Kentucky, 4:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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