A new sign was on the door to the Wildcat Den in Commonwealth Stadium before UK’s weekly Monday morning news conference.
It was fairly self-explanatory: “Beat Tennessee.”
However, defeating Tennessee (5-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) is something that the Cats (6-5, 2-5 SEC) haven’t been able to do since 1984, when UK head Joker Phillips played for the Cats and before any players on the current roster were even born. Since that year, the Volunteers have won 25 straight against their border rivals to the North.
“You can’t say it’s just another game for either party … It’s a big game for both parties involved,” Phillips said. “We’ve got a chance to be 7-5, they’ve got a chance to be bowl eligible. So it’s a big game.”
Still, Phillips downplayed the importance of ending the streak in a season when UK has already ended lengthy losing streaks, namely a 10-game losing streak to South Carolina and a 17-game losing streak to Steve Spurrier-coached teams.
“It’s the big one because it’s the next one, I mean it’s as simple as that,” Phillips said. “We have stopped a couple (streaks) this year, and this is the biggest one now, because it’s the next one. And that’s how we’re approaching it.”
The one player most people would have assumed to be most visibly passionate about Saturday’s game was junior wide receiver Randall Cobb, a native of Alcoa, Tenn., which is nearby Knoxville.
Regardless of Cobb’s decision to potentially leave for the NFL following this season, this game will be special because it will be his last time playing in Neyland Stadium in front of family and friends in a UK jersey.
Cobb was displaying his best poker face on Monday and was carefully keeping his emotions in check, calling the matchup with Tennessee “just another game.”
“We can’t make it bigger than what it really is, otherwise you’ll just think too much and won’t play as good as you can,” Cobb said. “I’ve got a lot of emotion right now, but I can’t show it right now. I can’t let my teammates see me too emotional, then they’ll get overhyped and overthink everything.”
Some of Cobb’s teammates weren’t as coy about their desire to end the losing streak.
“Our program has progressed and I think it’s time for us to not be associated with a 25-year losing streak,” junior cornerback Anthony Mosley said.
Phillips said he is never worried about Cobb’s approach entering a game.
“Whatever approach (Cobb) takes, I wish all of them took because he comes to play every week,” Phillips said. “I like his approach, because he’ll be ready to play. We know that.”
Cobb said “the game has a lot of implications,” but more so from a team perspective as opposed to an individual perspective.
When pressed by reporters to show his emotion, Cobb repeated: “It’s just another game.”