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Grounded

CRAWFORD | Run game isn't enough for Kentucky in 17-13 loss to Tennessee

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  • 2 min to read

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- Usually, if you run the ball the way Kentucky ran it against Tennessee on Saturday, you win the game.

Usually, if you run 25 more plays than your opponent, and possess the ball for a hard-to-fathom 23 more minutes than your opponent -- nearly three-quarters of the game -- you are celebrating in the locker room.

Instead, the Kentucky players were crushed after Tennessee held them out of the end zone for the final three quarters -- and for the Wildcats' final four plays, all from the Tennessee 6-yard line and in, including two stabs from the 1.

Mark it Tennessee 17, Kentucky 13.

It comes down to this: There's only so far you can go on one dimension.

"This is an extremely difficult loss for our football team," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "I’m proud of our team’s effort and heart and attitude in preparation. … It comes down to a goal-line stand. You come down to a yard short. It’s very difficult, a tough pill to swallow. But I appreciate our team, their heart and spirit and desire to win."

The Wildcats piled up 302 yards of rushing. Quarterback Lynn Bowden carried 26 times for 114 yards himself.

But when Kentucky needed to score and the Tennessee defense was dialed in against the run, the Wildcats couldn't come up with an answer. And it's an answer they had to have.

"When you get one-dimensional, it gets tough," Stoops said. "Tennessee’s strength is up front, and they’ve been covering well. It makes it tough. . . . We’re not overly explosive right now. We’re pretty one dimensional, we’re ttying the best we can."

Given what they are trying to accomplish, Kentucky did some good things on Saturday and, let's admit it, put themselves in position to win at the end.

They drove 75 plays and ate more more than 10 minutes to go up 7-0 on their opening drive. Then they used a block punt to punch in another early TD to claim a 13-0 lead after the extra point was missed. That extra point wound up being important.

The Wildcats wouldn't score again, though they did threaten. And when Tennessee got TD passes from Jarrett Guarantano on its first two drives of the second half, the pressure was on.

A couple of play calls were questionable, but they always are. Down 17-13 in the fourth quarter, on fourth-and-three at the Tennessee 38 yard line Kentucky aired it out and Bowden didn't come close to hitting Josh Ali in the end zone. It seemed a strange time to ask Bowden to make that play in the air.

Regardless, the Kentucky defense gave the Wildcats another chance, recovering a fumble on a botched exchange at the Tennessee 45 with 7:44 left.

Nine straight running plays later, Kentucky was at the Tennessee 4 yard line and poised to punch the ball in to win the game. Tennessee was already calling timeouts to conserve the clock.

The only problem: Kentucky was trying to run it in, and Tennessee knew it. After a UT penalty, the Wildcats got two tries from the one. They couldn't push it across.

Game over. For a team that found a way to run for 302 yards, to fail to be able to grind out one more -- twice -- is a heartbreaker.

But the bottom line is that sometimes you have to be able to throw the ball, if only to make the opponent think you might throw the ball.

Near the goal line on Saturday, nobody thought Kentucky was going to throw the ball.

So the Wildcats fall to 4-5 (2-5 in the Southeastern Conference), and drop yet another loss to Tennessee, this one in a game that was very winnable. Tennessee improves to 5-5 (3-3), and wins for the fourth time in five games. It made just enough plays.

The Vols had only one decent quarter -- the third -- and had only 21 yards and 2:10 of possession in the entire fourth quarter.

"Stats don't matter if you don't win," Stoops said. "We're trying to win games. . . . We’ve got to find a way to get the ball into the end zone, that’s the bottom line. You make that yard ... obviously it’s a much different locker room."

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