“Kentucky has not beat ___ since _____.”
It was a common storyline at the beginning of Mark Stoops’ tenure at Kentucky. Now Kentucky has knocked down almost every metaphorical door that has held back the program for years.
The first door to knock down was an SEC victory on the road, achieved at South Carolina. Not long after he got Kentucky’s first win over Louisville of the decade, a road victory over a Top 25 team that had a Heisman Trophy winner art quarterback. Then the Wildcats snapped the losing streak to Florida, followed by a win in a New Year’s Bowl for the first time in 40 years or so. Today Kentucky snapped the final big streak with a win in Knoxville for the first time since 1984.
“We haven’t had to hear too much of that lately and I’m glad for that,” Stoops said after the game. “I’m grateful for our teams and knocking down a lot of doors. This was another one, but again, I don’t like our team inheriting 20-30 years of history. That’s not on these guys. We’re responsible for what we’ve done lately. As I said two years ago, I didn’t like the way I had them ready to play. We altered that and got some things fixed and played much better. That’s on me as much as it’s on the team, but the locker room was a lot of fun.”
Kentucky came out fresh in Knoxville after making a Friday afternoon pitstop in Williamsburg for a walk-through. The Wildcats intercepted three passes in the first half, but the defense left room for doubters to believe a Volunteer comeback was inevitable after surrendering a score just before halftime. The doubters were quickly, and happily, silenced.
“Honestly, after halftime we wanted to come back out and show people that we know how to finish a game and keep our foot on the gas and show everybody that we’re not going to play laxy-daisy and start playing conservative,” said linebacker Jamin Davis. “We made sure everything was firing on all cylinders.”
It’s safe to say Kentucky was firing on all cylinders. The Wildcats did not commit one penalty, outscored the Vols 17-0 and out-gained them 219 to 84 in the second half. Tennessee ran just 20 plays and could not convert a third or fourth down.
The best football Stoops had seen from his team so far in 2020 happened after they left the halftime locker room. The best news? There’s still plenty of room to improve.
“I could not be more proud of our football team, just the way we responded the past couple weeks. Early in the season we had some tough losses, but it’s not for a lack of effort. Our guys have had the right attitude. I think we’ve cleaned things up,” said Kentucky’s head coach.
“We’ve seen what we can do and when we put it together and play good on all sides. We’ve seen spurts of that. The good news is we haven’t put it all together yet. I felt like we played a really solid second half with the defense not giving up any points, nothing in the second half, and the offense really controlled the football, really controlled the line of scrimmage, got some tough yards when we needed it. We got some tough first downs and some points and put them in predictable pass situations. We felt like that’s where we wanted to be. Our coaches did a great job. Our players really responded. I’m proud of the group effort.”
Stoops is proud of his team and happy he no longer has to answer questions about losing streaks that started long before he was in Lexington.