Kentucky loses 50-16 to Tennessee, squanders 5th straight opportunity to become bowl eligible

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Kentucky is down to its last shot.

The Wildcats squandered a fifth straight opportunity to become bowl eligible Saturday by falling 50-16 to Tennessee in front of a sellout crowd of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium. Kentucky, which has next week off, must win Nov. 29 at Louisville to have a shot at earning its first bowl bid since 2010.

They insist they haven't run out of gas.

"There's always something left in the tank," said Kentucky wide receiver Javess Blue, who had six catches for 131 yards. "We're a team that's never going to give up."

Kentucky (5-6, 2-6 SEC) won five of its first six games this season, but this young team started wearing down as its schedule got tougher. The Wildcats have allowed 113 points over their last two contests — the first time since 1994 they've given up at least 50 points in back-to-back weeks — and have dropped five straight games by an average margin of 25.6 points.

The Wildcats had no answers Saturday for Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

Dobbs threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth score in his second start of the season as Tennessee beat Kentucky for the 29th time in their last 30 meetings. Jalen Hurd rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown.

The Volunteers (5-5, 2-4) can become bowl eligible by beating Missouri at home next week or by winning at Vanderbilt on Nov. 29. Tennessee also is seeking its first bowl appearance since 2010.

"It would mean the world," Dobbs said. "I know that Tennessee hasn't been to a bowl game in a while, and that's not something that Tennessee and the program is used to."

On Tennessee's opening possession, Dobbs flipped a short pass that Von Pearson turned into a 21-yard touchdown. Dobbs connected with Pearson again for a 16-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Dobbs threw a career-long 52-yard touchdown completion to Jason Croom.

After Kentucky took an early 3-0 lead, Tennessee scored the game's next 30 points.

"The effort was there," Kentucky defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree said. "It was just executing at times. Missed tackles again. Every time the play happened, we were in the right spot. We just didn't make the play."

Tennessee capitalized on an injury to Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, who was largely responsible for setting up the field goal on Kentucky's opening possession, left the game during the Wildcats' second series. Kentucky's offense wasn't the same without him.

On Kentucky's third drive, cornerback Justin Coleman hit redshirt freshman Reese Phillips just as he attempted a pass, resulting in an errant throw that safety Brian Randolph caught and returned 23 yards for Tennessee's first defensive touchdown of the season.

By the time Towles got back into the game early in the second quarter, Kentucky trailed 20-3. His return couldn't stop Tennessee's momentum.

"We ran into a good team tonight," Towles said. "We've just got to play better and keep looking forward."

Kentucky had some noteworthy individual performances in the one-sided loss.

Austin MacGinnis made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a school-record 54-yarder that closed the first half. Josh Forrest had a career-high 20 tackles. Dupree had 15 tackles and a sack. Blue's 131 yards receiving represented a career high.

But they still didn't have nearly enough firepower to stay close to Tennessee.

"We need to continue to pound the weight room we need to continue to recruit and get our players better and bigger," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "One thing I'm noticing in this stretch and I think you all can see it too. We need to be more physical. We need to be bigger and stronger, and that's what we got to do."

That's how Kentucky can improve itself in the long run.

For now, the Wildcats' choice is clear. Beat Louisville, or stay home for the holidays.

"It would be a great time to take back over the state," Dupree said. "Who wouldn't want to beat Louisville to get to a bowl game? We've just got to make it happen."

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