CRAWFORD | Rocky Top, rock bottom: Kentucky loses to Tennessee 5 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Rocky Top, rock bottom: Kentucky loses to Tennessee 50-16

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UK Equipment photo (via Twitter). UK Equipment photo (via Twitter).
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) — It's not that drubbings in Knoxville are unheard of for the University of Kentucky football program.

But this year was supposed to be different, and it's difficult from the outside looking in to figure out why it wasn't. Tennessee might well be significantly better than Kentucky midway through November. But the Volunteers aren't 50-16 better.

That was the final score Saturday in Neyland Stadium. Tennessee piled up 511 yards of total offense. It lit Kentucky up worse than Mississippi State and LSU, and nearly as badly as Georgia.

It's not surprising to hear rousing choruses of Rocky Top when Tennessee plays Kentucky. But it was surprising Saturday to see this Kentucky team hit rock bottom, at least in terms of this season.

Mark Stoops came to UK as a defensive guru. If nothing else, he pledged to build mental and physical toughness.

Right now, the problem with UK football is that it has shown little of that on the field over the past several weeks. It now has given up 50-plus points in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1994. And there's been a lot of bad defense played in Lexington since 1994.

To give that kind of scoring up to Georgia, when the Bulldogs are coming off a loss, is one thing. To get torched like that by a Tennessee team that was 4-5 coming in is another. UK now has given up 113 points and more than 1,000 yards in its past two games.

And in a moment of surprising candor after Saturday's game, Stoops allowed that his team is worn out.

“I would never say this before the game and I'm never going to give them an out, for anything, but we didn't have a lot in our tank.”

Tennessee's first touchdown was an example of the UK defensive problems.

Joshua Dobbs connected with Von Pearson, who ran straight through three UK tacklers to score. Tennessee ran through and over UK tackles all night. And in college football, you can't miss tackles.

This Tennessee team is improving, but it wasn't Peyton Manning back there throwing passes. This is a Tennessee program that reached 5-5 with its win over UK — and it hasn't had a record that good after 10 games since 2009.

Perhaps the UK defense has physically worn down to the point where it just can't stop people. Coaches were worried about defensive depth even when things started well. Maybe that's it. Maybe they just need to add bodies and come back healthy.

Or maybe there's a mental component to this, too. Maybe, after beginning the season 5-1 and hearing all the optimism and speculation about bowl destinations, the emotional tank is empty two after five straight deflating losses. Even after the loss to Mississippi State, some were saying UK might be favored over Louisville and at least was expected to be close against Tennessee.

Not anymore. The defense took a body blow from LSU, then Mississippi State took its shot, and maybe the Georgia game was a knockout punch.

Still, Stoops was positive about his team.

“We need this bye right now,” Stoops said. “Our team needs to heal up. I have no problem with our team's attitude and effort. Some people might have a hard time understanding it when you get beat 50-16, but I really do think our guys really want to play well. I thought they really prepared well, tried to come in with a good mindset and really, I thought, gave a good effort. We were exploited at certain positions. They (Tennessee) stress you because of what they're doing offensively. They had some very good playmakers that made us miss. And they made some very big plays and we didn't.”

Tennessee, after losing to UK in 2011, has now won three straight meetings by double-digit scores.

I still stand by my assertion that no matter how this season ends up, UK football has made progress. Not many people were picking the Wildcats to win five games. But not many, once they'd won five, saw them having their clocks cleaned like this.

Nobody seems to have an explanation for why the tackling has deteriorated so much. Nor is there an easy explanation over the offense grinding to a halt.

UK managed just 45 yards on 16 carries in the second half Saturday and had only 67 yards of offense total in the half.

The Wildcats get a much-needed week off before they get one last chance to make a memorable mark on this season when they visit Louisville the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

But at the rate they're playing right now, it looks like the main thing this team is looking for is the finish line.

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