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Kentucky regroups from loss to Georgia, eyes first win at Tennessee since 1984 in SEC finale

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

Kentucky has had six days to get over a heartbreaking loss to Georgia and Mark Stoops said that’s plenty of time for his team to regroup going into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference finale at Tennessee.

“Our players know, even in the loss, we did some very good things,” Stoops said Thursday. “We’re just trying to get any mistakes we’ve had cleaned up and play better football. But, our guys, like I’ve said, they’ve shown no signs of slowing down. We had a good week of practice and hopefully we’ll continue to play well.”

Boom Williams and the Wildcats take on Tennessee Saturday in Knoxville (Bill Thiry Photo)

Boom Williams and the Wildcats take on Tennessee Saturday in Knoxville (Bill Thiry Photo)

Prior to a 27-24 setback to the Bulldogs, the Wildcats (5-4, 4-3) won three straight conference encounters and five of six games after opening the season with two straight losses. Tennessee, the favorite to win the SEC East, lost three straight league games after it won five in a row to open the season. The Volunteers (6-3, 2-3) got back on track with a 55-0 rout of Tennessee Tech last week, the team’s first shutout of the season.

Read More at Keith's Blog

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

“I see a very good team that is very talented,” Stoops said earlier this week. “They have been banged up, but they had the bye week and they came back last week and played like they are capable of. If you watch our league, you have a tendency to see scores sometimes that raises your eyebrows, but again that is just the nature of the beast.”

For the second time this season, Kentucky will take the field at noon and had success in its last early kickoff at Missouri. The Wildcats scored early and often in a 35-21 victory over the Tigers, the third of three straight conference victories.

Stoops said the performance in Columbia two weeks ago gives the team confidence going into Saturday’s contest at Neyland Stadium.

“I definitely think that helped and we know what it feels like,” Stoops said. “We’ve emphasized all week trying to get to bed earlier and getting our sleep. You’re not going to make it up in one night so hopefully, they’ll get some rest tonight and they’ll be ready to go.”

Stoops said a big key for the Wildcats will be overcoming turnovers that have plagued his team all season. Stoops added that eliminating miscues will be a priority for both teams.

“It’s definitely gonna play a factor,” Stoops said. “It always does, and hopefully we’ll protect the football a little bit better. And we did – I was pleased this past game with the emphasis on trying to get some turnovers, but as you know, sometimes the ball’s on the ground, you get it or you don’t. We were fortunate to get a few breaks this past week. Unfortunately, we lost some as well.”

Tennessee coach Butch Jones has been impressed with Kentucky this season, especially on offense and likes the way the Wildcats are running the ball. Paced by running backs Stanley “Boom” Williams and Benny Snell, Kentucky is averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game. Jones said the Wildcats’ physical play will be a concern for his banged up squad.

“Everyone talks about the ‘wildcat’ offense and they do a great job with that,” Jones said. “It is a sense of physicality that they play with (that makes them good).”

Jones is 3-0 against Kentucky and the Vols have won 30 of the last 31 games between the two border and conference rivals. Tennessee has won the last four games in the series, while the Wildcats haven’t won in Knoxville since Jerry Claiborne’s squad defeated the Vols 17-12 in 1984 at Neyland Stadium.

“We’ll have our hands full,” Stoops said. “It’ll be a real challenge going up to Tennessee.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Tennessee, noon, 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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