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November 14, 2011There are only two options left for the Kentucky football team: Win or go home.
The Wildcats must win at No. 13 Georgia this weekend - a game in which UK is a 28-point underdog - then break a 26-year losing streak to Tennessee the following Saturday to become eligible for a sixth consecutive bowl game.
"You have to put it on the line for a win," senior right tackle Billy Joe Murphy said. "You can't afford a loss now. We know we have to have this one."
It'll be a big challenge.
Georgia (8-2, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) hasn't lost since Sept. 10, and a win on Saturday would send the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship game as East Division champs. They've won eight in a row.
Meanwhile, Kentucky (4-6, 1-5) has lost six of their last eight after starting 2-0.
The teams have been on different trajectories this season.
UGA coach Mark Richt, who entered the season on the hot seat, has taken pressure off himself and given his team an outside shot at a BCS bowl game.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has seen the Cats' chances for a sixth consecutive bowl game nearly evaporate. They must reach six victories to become eligible for the postseason.
"We're not where we used to be the last couple years, but we're striving to get back to that level," Phillips said. "We as coaches, we as players, we're competitors, and we say there are still some things out there left for us to play for."
Saturday's 38-8 loss to Vanderbilt was a huge blow to UK's bowl aspirations and a tough pill for several players.
Many of the younger Cats who were part of successful high school programs aren't used to the prospects of a losing season. And none of the older players has been part of a UK season that didn't end with a bowl appearance.
Georgia is the last chance for the Wildcats to turn it around. Sophomore linebacker Avery Williamson said team meetings on Sunday were quieter than usual as players focused on preparing for the Bulldogs.
"They're not used to losing," Phillips said. "We aren't around here either in the last five, six years. It's got to be especially tough for the young guys. "
South Carolina needs Kentucky's help
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier hasn't done much to endear himself to the Kentucky football team over the years, but he'll be rooting for the Wildcats on Saturday.
But the Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2) can make the SEC title game out of the East only if Kentucky beats Georgia.
Spurrier is 18-1 against UK, including handing the Cats their worst-ever loss to South Carolina, 54-3, on Oct. 8.
Phillips said he hasn't heard from Spurrier since the game.
"You don't ever hear from him after (the teams play)," Phillips said. "He's got other things to focus on."
Spurrier hasn't been kind to Kentucky over the years. His teams have scored 40 or more points against Kentucky 10 times and scored 50 or more six times.
Phillips did receive a text message from a South Carolina phone number offering him "dinner anywhere in the world" if Kentucky beats Georgia this weekend, though. He did not recognize the phone number. Phillips served as an assistant at South Carolina in 2002.
He did not respond to the text.
The Bulldogs' offense features sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, who leads the conference with 27 touchdown passes, and true freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell, who is fourth in the conference with 821 rushing yards.
Their defense is just as vicious. The Bulldogs are the only SEC team on Kentucky's schedule to run a 3-4 defense, and they blitz the quarterback from every direction. They're just as opportunistic on the back end as well. Junior safety Bacarri Rambo is tied for second in the country with seven interceptions.
UK senior linebacker Winston Guy, who injured his AC (shoulder) against Vanderbilt, will not practice Tuesday but is expected to be ready for Saturday's game.
X-rays of junior safety Martavius Neloms' injured ankle were negative. He has been diagnosed with a high ankle sprain and is doubtful for Saturday's game. True freshman Ashely Lowery would start in his place.
Junior cornerback Cartier Rice injured his oblique on Saturday but is probable to play against Georgia.
Sophomore defensive tackle Donte Rumph ran on Monday after sitting out Saturday's game. Mister Cobble started against Vanderbilt but was limited in the second half with a shoulder injury. Missing those two players hurt the defense badly, Phillips said.
"When you're playing teams that like to run downhill, like we were playing Saturday, you need some beef in there," he said.
UK-Tennessee kickoff time set
Kentucky's regular-season finale against Tennessee on Nov. 26 will kick off at 12:21 p.m. EST and be televised by the SEC Network, the conference announced on Monday.
It'll be UK's third consecutive week and fifth time this season in that TV slot.