If Joker Phillips can do one last thing before leaving his post with the Wildcats, he hopes it is breathing life back into a Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry that was on life support in the not-so-distant past.
Kentucky ended a 26-game losing streak against the Volunteers last season with a 12-7 win at Commonwealth Stadium. Now the Wildcats are seeking back to back wins over Tennessee for the first time since 1976-77.
"It would mean a lot to finish out for these seniors," Phillips said during Monday's weekly press luncheon. "There's a lot of history like that we're trying to change. That would be a plus, one of the things that this class has changed, if we can get it done."
The 2-9 Wildcats head to Knoxville for Saturday's season finale that features both teams in the midst of coaching changes. The Vols' Derek Dooley was dismissed after suffering a 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday that dropped UT to 4-7 overall and 0-7 in SEC play.
Dooley was given the option to coach the final game, but declined, citing that he didn't want to be a distraction for his players as they attempt to avoid the program's first winless SEC campaign in school history. UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will serve as interim coach against the Wildcats.
If the Cats hope to come away with their second consecutive win over the Vols, they'll have to contend with one of the best passing offenses in the SEC. Tennessee leads the league at 317.6 passing yards per game with junior quarterback Tyler Bray at the helm and what Phillips described as a pair of potential NFL first-round draft picks at wide receiver in Justin Hunter (70 receptions, 1,018 yards, 8 TD) and Cordarrelle Patterson (42/690/4).
An experienced Tennessee offensive line has allowed an SEC-low seven sacks on the season.
Defensively, however, the Vols rank dead last in the SEC surrendering 37.4 points and 476.7 yards per game.
Phillips, who was told he would not be retained after a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt on Nov. 3, downplayed the notion that both teams will be playing harder for their departing coaches.
"Guys just go out and play," he said. "This game's an emotional game. Guys will go out and play because it's their last game. I expect ours to do the same thing. I don't think it will be for a coach, I think it will be for them. The emotions will be from them, the last time they'll be able to play together."
Keeping the players focused on their future is his top priority, Phillips said. "We want to leave these guys with positive attitudes because the show goes on.
"I heard one of the guys say ‘I don't know about being here.' I said, ‘What do you mean you don't know? This is the place for you.' I expect them all to stay here, stay together, and get this thing turned."
Phillips hopes to rekindle UK-UT rivalry
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