KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) — There are two yardsticks for the University of Kentucky football program this season. The first one, you can probably throw into the trash. It’s the what-might-have-been yardstick.

Faced with the unexpected opportunity to make a play for first place in the SEC Eastern Division, the Wildcats gave up a game-winning field goal to Georgia last week, and returned to the ranks of SEC strivers.

Win that game — and Kentucky did everything but — and the bowl outlook, and in fact, the narrative of the entire season, would’ve been different. It’s tough, if you’re a UK fan, not to be disappointed at the opportunity lost.

It’s why Saturday’s 49-36 loss at Tennessee is disappointing, but not devastating. The season has presented several opportunities to be special. But it still presents an opportunity for progress.

That’s what the second yardstick is for. If the Wildcats reach a bowl game, they’ve made progress. And that’s what the Wildcats will be practicing and playing for in the coming week against winless Austin Peay.

A step forward for this program? Yes. A giant leap? Not quite.

Let’s take a look back at what happened in front of 101,075 fans in Neyland Stadium on Saturday:

1). GOT THE JOB DONE. Kentucky’s offensive line and running game. Tennessee came into the game giving up 191.7 yards per game on the ground, and 241.4 yards per game against conference teams. The Wildcats did more damage than that.

Stephen Johnson sprinted 75 yards on UK’s first play from scrimmage. Boom Williams went 39 on their first play of the second half. In all, the Wildcats carried for 443 yards in the game and rolled up 635 yards of offense — seventh-most in school history. It was the most rushing yards ever for UK against an SEC opponent and the second-most in a single game period — second only to 446 yards against Tennessee Tech in 1951. UK’s single-game SEC rushing record had stood since 1953. 

If you looked at the offensive stat sheet, you’d think the game would’ve been closer. UK held a 14-minute edge in time of possession.

Asked if he’d ever lost a game when his team had run for more than 400 yards, Stoops said, “No. I’m not real happy with the other side having so may rushing yards as well.”

2). DIDN’T GET THE JOB DONE. Facing a multi-dimensional attack, Kentucky struggled defensively. Coach Mark Stoops has been hiding some weaknesses schematically over the past month, able to tweak his defense against offenses more geared toward the run game. The Vols have no such offense. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 233 and three TDs.

“They put us in a lot of space with their run game,” Stoops said. “Their dual-threat quarterback put a lot of pressure on us.”

Dobbs finishes his career 13 touchdowns running and passing against Kentucky.

“He’s a senior, right?” Stoops asked after the game. “I told him after the game, I’m glad we don’t have to face him again.”

3). TURNING POINT. Early in the third quarter, down 28-16, Kentucky drove 75 yards in 9 plays and was inside the Tennessee 10-yard line, when freshman running back Benny Snell carried four yards but fumbled for the first time this season. Tennessee recovered and six plays later scored on a 17-yard run by Alvin Kamara. That made it 35-16, and put Tennessee in command.

“It’s tough, especially when you drive down there and you’re ready to score,” Stoops said.

4). SURPRISE, SURPRISE. Tennessee had only one third-down conversion in the game — largely because it ran only five third-down plays in the game. When you average 10.2 yards per play, you’re not going to have to worry too much about third downs.

5). PLAYERS OF THE GAME. Dobbs dominated the game for Tennessee, which also got big rushing days from Kamara (10 carries, 128 yards) and John Kelly 16 carries, 94 yards. The Wildcats got a big game from Boom Williams (16 carries, 127 yards) and Jojo Kemp (8 carries, 90 yards). Benny Snell carried 15 times for 79 yards. Mike Edwards led Kentucky with 12 tackles and Denzil Ware had nine tackles, 2 1/2 for loss.

6). STAT OF THE DAY. Five UK players ran for 70 yards or more. It’s the first time that has happened in school history. Another first — both Boom Williams and Benny Snell have turned in at least four 100-yard games this season. UK has never had a duo do that. Boom Williams went over 1,000 yards on the season with his performance Saturday. He’s only the fourth UK player to rush for 1,000 yards before his senior season. Sonny Collins, Rafael Little, and Moe Williams are the others.

7). WHAT WE LEARNED. Kentucky’s multi-pronged rushing attack keeps getting more potent. And it’s defense isn’t as far along as it looked to be against some of the weaker offenses in the SEC.

8). WHAT’S NEXT? Kentucky faces Austin Peay on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium. A win locks up the school’s first bowl bid since the 2010 season.

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