You never want to lose a player to injury, but they will always be a looming factor in this sport. When they do occur, the coaching mantra is "next man up." Sophomore running back Mikel Horton showed glimpses of why he was a highly sought-after prospect coming out of the Ohio prep ranks two years ago with a career-high 14 carries for 109 yards against the Vols. He also had a 19-yard reception and another explosive play that was wiped out by a penalty. If UK starter Boom Williams is out for a substantial amount of time with the right arm injury he sustained late in the second quarter, the Cats will need to lean heavily on Horton and junior Jojo Kemp to secure those two additional wins needed for bowl eligibility down the stretch. It will be difficult to fill Boom's shoes, but sometimes one player's setback is another's window of opportunity.
There's no way to dance around the fact that the last three weeks have been a setback for the UK football program. The Cats missed an opportunity to beat a struggling Auburn team in a tightly-contested game, then got shellacked by a combined 94-37 count by a pair of unranked teams in Mississippi State and Tennessee. The next thing you know, a promising 4-1 start to the season is 4-4 with those disturbing memories of last year's collapse slipping into the collective BBN psyche.
The worst part about the last two weeks? It wasn't as if UK was playing a national title contender like LSU or Bama. These were solid programs that are further along than the Cats, to be certain, but not 26 and 31 points better. That UK can still look so utterly overmatched and be physically dominated against middle-of-the-road SEC opponents in Year 3 under Mark Stoops is puzzling. Fortunately, the Cats are still in pretty good position to reach a bowl game for the first time in five years, but how they're going about it is unsettling. There's not really one aspect of football -- offense, defense or special teams -- that UK is doing consistently well right now. Ultimately, the game still boils down to blocking and tackling, and the Cats are extremely lacking in both. Consequently, none of the remaining four games can be taken for granted.
By The Numbers...
1 - UK teams to leave the field victorious against Tennessee in 30 years.
5 - Years since UK's last special teams return for a score. UT had two on Saturday and now owns five for the season.
36 - More touchdowns scored by national leader Baylor (59) in seven games than UK (23) in eight games.
38 - Years without UK posting a winning record in SEC play.
42% - Opponents' third-down conversion rate against the UK defense this season, ranked 96th nationally after Saturday's game.
55 - Negative-yardage plays for UK this season, ranked 97th nationally.
101st - UK's national ranking in sacks allowed (22) this season.