Kentucky’s football team hasn’t won in Knoxville in over three decades. The last time the Wildcats defeated the Vols in Neyland Stadium was all the way back in 1984 when they escaped Knoxville with a 17-12 victory.
Since then, the Wildcats have been defeated time and time again in Knoxville.
The Wildcats have played Tennessee 16 times in the Vols’ home stadium since their last win in Neyland Stadium, and only three of those meetings have been decided by one score. Tennessee hasn’t just beaten Kentucky when they’ve faced-off in Knoxville; they’ve usually crushed them.
Current Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has been at the helm of the Wildcats during two of those 16 losses in Knoxville. His Kentucky squad lost 50-16 in 2014 in Neyland Stadium and fell 49-36 to the Vols in 2016.
Stoops was asked on Monday if he planned on talking with his team about that 16-game losing streak that spans three-plus decades. His answer?
“I will not, no,” Stoops replied, according to quotes gathered by 247Sports.
Kentucky, who currently ranks No. 12 in the AP Poll, opened up as a 3.5-point favorite over the Vols ahead of their match-up this weekend. It marks the first time in the modern betting era that the Wildcats have been favorites over Tennessee in Knoxville.
This Kentucky team is no stranger to ending streaks spanning multiple decades, though. Earlier this season, they defeated Florida 27-16 in The Swamp to end a 31-game losing streak to the Gators. Kentucky’s five SEC wins this season are the most they’ve earned in a single season since the 1977 Kentucky team went 6-0 in conference play.
But to Stoops, defeating Tennessee is big enough for Kentucky. Ending a streak in the process doesn’t make it more important in his mind.
“I think just beating Tennessee is important to us,” Stoops continued. “Whether there’s a streak involved or not, why would that make a difference to our team? They don’t know anything about 34 years ago. To be honest with you, they really don’t care. They want to win for their team this year. I think that’s very important, and that’s motivation for us.
“I acknowledge the importance to our fans, I acknowledge the importance to our state and our community. But to our team, they’re hungry for each other and for this year.”
None of Kentucky’s current players were alive the last time the Wildcats defeated the Vols in Neyland Stadium, but this year’s roster has plenty of returning players from the team that took down Tennessee in Lexington last season. Kentucky beat the Vols 29-26 last year, marking their first win over the Vols since 2011 and only their second win against UT in the last 33 years.
Wins over Tennessee have been hard to come by for Kentucky. Since 1965, the Wildcats have beaten the Vols just six times. But a win Saturday would be huge for more than just their losing streak in Knoxville.
If Kentucky defeats the Vols on Saturday, it would mark the first time the Wildcats have beaten Tennessee in back-to-back seasons since they took down the Vols in both 1976 and 1977. It would also give Kentucky their first six-win conference season since 1977 and would be the first time the Wildcats have beaten both Tennessee and Florida in the same year since that 1977 season as well.
The Vols have history on their side on Saturday, but that history won’t help them stop Kentucky’s potent rushing attack or contain linebacker Josh Allen on the Wildcats’ defense.
Tennessee wants to play spoiler to Kentucky’s hopes of reaching a New Year’s Six bowl, but Kentucky hopes to end decades of futility with a win. And the Wildcats may have the team to do just that this year.