BY LARRY VAUGHT
Before Kentucky lost 45-7 at Mississippi State, most Kentucky fans were optimistic that UK was going to beat the Volunteers this year. Now going into Saturday’s game, the whole mood has changed because of the way UK was dominated by State.
Of course, it doesn’t take much to get UK fans paranoid about playing the Volunteers. Since 1965, UK has just five wins over Tennessee. That’s five wins in 52 years. Four of those wins came between 1976 and 1984. The other one came in 2011 with receiver Matt Roark playing quarterback because of injuries to UK’s other quarterbacks. But five times in 52 years. That’s embarrassing and why winning Saturday against the Vols is so important to UK fans.
The Vols have been in disarray. Coach Butch Jones, the coach many UK fans wanted when Mark Stoops was hired, has lost the Tennessee fan base with a 3-4 record and most UT fans want him fired now. The Vols have had disciplinary issues — a player made an obscene gesture to Alabama fans last week after returning an interception for a score. They have not scored an offensive touchdown this month.
Kentucky played its worst game of the season at Mississippi State. How it plays against Tennessee will define the 2017 season for coach Mark Stoops’ team — and possibly Stoops’ tenure at UK. Beat Tennessee, re-energize the fan base and keep talking about a nice bowl. Lose to Tennessee, see the fan base waver even more and keep talk alive about whether UK’s 5-1 start was “fool’s gold” and not a sign of progress.