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November 30, 2013
Cats' loss to Tennessee caps Stoops' first season
Mark Stoops finished the same way as the last: 2-10 overall, 0-8 in SEC play following a season-ending loss to Tennessee.Kentucky's first season under coach
It's the first time since 1941-42 that Kentucky went winless in SEC play over a two-year span.
This year it was a 27-14 loss to the Volunteers that ensured Stoops will have to wait until next season, at least, for his first conference win as head coach.
"Tough way to lock up the season," Stoops said.
The Wildcats' defeat followed a similar pattern as many others this season: not bereft of opportunities to pull out big plays and put themselves in a position to win, but devoid of execution.
Behind quarterback Maxwell Smith -- Jalen Whitlow was out with a neck injury -- UK moved the ball semi-effectively, moving past midfield seven times.
Smith finished 25 of 38 for 254 yards and two touchdowns, and although he missed a couple deep throws, he "played probably his best football of the year" offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.
Running back Dyshawn Mobley had a second straight solid game, rushing for 143 yards on 17 attempts.
"He ran his butt off," Smith said. "He ran really tough. That's who Dyshawn is."
But errors and miscues left the Wildcats grasping for points. Despite picking up 393 total yards, the most UK had gained in any SEC game this year, the Cats couldn't sustain drives deep enough in Tennessee territory to score.
"Thought the game mirrored our season as whole," Brown said. "Did some good things. Shot ourselves in the foot a lot."
Multiple big plays were set up and looked to have a chance to succeed. A reverse pass designed for wide receiver Joey Herrick left a player open down the field; Herrick slipped trying to plant and throw. Later, inside the Tennessee 5-yard line, UK couldn't punch in a touchdown on two tries.
"Again, I think we have our shots," Stoops said. "There are plays out there, and we're not making them."
Even after creating turnovers -- one interception and one recovered fumble -- Kentucky couldn't capitalize with any points.
"I'm disappointed in our offensive output this year," Brown said. "I think our fans are disappointed. I understand that."
The hole Kentucky found itself in was created early. On the second play of the game, Tennessee running back Rijon Neal broke off a 60-yard run for a touchdown.
For Stoops, a scoreboard with his team down early was a familiar sight, just as the final scoreboard was a familiarly frustrating result.
"I know we're progressing," Stoops said. "It's hard for me to define that exactly."
The final standings won't help him define it. Kentucky once again sits at the bottom of the league, unable to come through with a conference win.
"Nobody expects to go 2-10 in consecutive seasons," Smith said, "but I can sense that something about this program is going to change."
With higher-rated recruits and, therefore, potentially better players, senior linebacker Avery Williamson said next year's team "doesn't have a choice but to get better."
Stoops is ready to make that change.
With no more games ahead of him until next fall, his attention will turn to recruiting new players to help and developing the players he already has.
"Everybody in that locker room knows that we are going to get back to work here real soon," Stoops said. "Like, Monday."
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