The path that the Kentucky and Tennessee football programs have taken this year are eerily similar. This season they are both 0-7 in the SEC and both programs have let go of their coaches, following a blowout loss to Vanderbilt in consecutive weeks. First, Joker Phillips, and now Derek Dooley.
Neither team will be competing in a bowl game this season, but head coach Joker Phillips (who will remain at his position until season's end) says that this is still an important game for him and his players.
"It would mean a lot just to finish out for these seniors," Phillips said. "There's a lot of history that we are trying to change and this would be one of those things that would be a plus, one of the things that this class has changed if we can get it done. There was some history with never beating (Steve) Spurrier and this class right here got an opportunity to do that. There was some history with 20-something years of not beating Tennessee, this class got a chance to do it, so this would be another thing that they've done that nobody here has done before."
The Wildcats are coming off a 34-3 victory against Samford that ended their eight-game losing streak. Junior running back Raymond Sanders III had a standout performance in the game, posting 123 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries (8.2 yards per carry). Sanders is a player that can cause problems for a Volunteer defense which is allowing 190.8 rushing yards per game.
"This week we're just gonna try and go to work," Sanders said. "We had a pretty good game rushing last week, Jalen (Whitlow) did a great job of moving the offense and hitting open the guys so we want to expand on that, and hopefully we just go out there and play hard for these seniors and continue to improve and get a good outing against these guys."
The Kentucky defense is anchored by junior linebacker Avery Williamson, who after two years of being a backup has become one of the biggest surprises in the nation as he leads the SEC in tackles, but Phillips is not surprised at the way he has played this season.
"I thought he'd have a good season," said Phillips. "Avery was ready, he's another guy that's self-made. He's worked hard in the weight room, he's obviously a really good student and he became a student of the game this year."
In addition, Williamson knows that other than playing for a victory, he and his teammates also have play well to show the new coach next year that they deserve to be on this team.
"It's going to be like a try-out," said Williamson. "Everybody is gonna have to be re-evaluated, positions are probably going to get changed around, and this is the time like our coaches said to raise our stock up for the new coach."