A much needed bye week has came and gone for Kentucky following back-to-back losses at the hand of SEC east foes. The Wildcats were starting to get banged up with injuries to key players such as Jalen Geiger, Jager Burton, and Trevin Wallace. Also, it was clear that Coach Stoops needed a week to take the team through a discipline training course. Penalties have continued to rack up these past couple weeks which resulted in a players-only meeting at the beginning of last week.
It seems like there's always some sort of turmoil when Kentucky enters their bye, but how have the Cats responded under Mark Stoops? Before I researched the answer, I would have said Kentucky is below .500 in games after the bye week. It turns out they have played slightly better than I thought with a 5-5 post-bye week record in the Stoops era.
Why did I feel as if Kentucky was worse off after bye weeks than they actually are? The five losses were some of the most miserable in my Kentucky fandom. For what it's worth, Stoops' first year was a close loss on the road at Mississippi State where JoJo Kemp and that crew stayed competitive. The losses after that are either heartbreaking or just flat out embarrassing. Let's look at the rest.
2015 was the Thursday night game against Auburn. The Tigers had underperformed all season long until they showed up ready to play in Lexington, pulling out at 30-27 nail-biter.
In 2017, Stephen Johnson and the crew got railroaded by Nick Fitzgerald and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, losing 45-7.
Fast forward to 2021, Kentucky threw a clunker in Starkville again losing to the Bulldogs 31-17.
Then there was last year, Tennessee debuted their all black uniforms in Neyland Stadium and took the soul of a top-20 ranked Kentucky team in a 44-6 victory for the Vols.
Kentucky's five wins after bye weeks are much closer than some of those losses I just mentioned. Stoops got his first SEC win after the bye week in 2014 with a 17-7 victory over Vanderbilt. With the hot seat scoring for Coach Stoops, his team pulled out a 40-38 thriller against Mississippi State in 2016. From 2018-2020, the Cats would go on a post-bye week three game win-streak with two close wins over Vandy and a barn-burner against Arkansas, all at Kroger Field.
What's the moral of the story here? I have no idea what sort of Kentucky team you'll get Saturday. Tennessee is coming off of a hard fought battle against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Will the physicality of that game weaken them this week? Or will the anger from the loss fuel them to get back on track? I anticipate a motivated group of Vols making their way to Lexington against a desperate Kentucky team looking to get their season heading in the right direction.
All of this seems like a recipe for a close matchup that will be won in the fourth quarter. I'll save my prediction for later in the week, but if history repeats itself, we're either heading for a nail-biter or a blowout, no in between.