November 26, 2011

The Kentucky-Tennessee streak by the numbers

The Kentucky football team's 26-year losing streak to rival Tennessee has been an epic stretch of Sisyphean futility. The last time the Wildcats beat the Volunteers, Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips was still wearing pads as a wide receiver. Not a single Kentucky player was born the last time Kentucky beat Tennessee, in 1984. Since the streak began, Kentucky basketball has compiled a record of 43-14 against Tennessee.

The streak began rather fittingly, when Tennessee blanked Kentucky 42-0 in 1986. It's the longest active losing streak in college football among teams that meet every year. To put the streak in perspective, Cats Illustrated took a look at the box scores from the last 26 years.

Total margin of defeat: 527 points
Kentucky has been outscored 965-438 during the course of the streak. That's an average score of 37.11-16.85.

Total yardage:11,607 to 8,337
That's an average of 446.4 yards per game for Tennessee compared to 320.7 for Kentucky. Only on three occasions (in 1986, 2001, 2006 and 2007) has Kentucky outgained Tennessee during the losing streak.

Turnover ratio: 61:42
The turnover ratio isn't particularly alarming, but consider this. Tennessee has never had more than three turnovers in a game since the streak began. Kentucky has had four or more on six occasions. Tennessee has gone without a turnover five times, while Kentucky has gone without a turnover in four games.

Most points allowed: 59, three times (1997, 1998, 2000)
Future NFL star Peyton Manning led the Vols to a 59-31 win over Tim Couch and Kentucky in Manning's senior year. Current Wildcat assistant Tee Martin equaled that mark in a 59-21 win the next year as Tennessee marched to the national championship. The 2000 Tennessee team featured five future NFL players, including running back Travis Henry and defensive tackle John Henderson.

Most points scored: 50, in 2007 (4 overtimes)
The most points Kentucky scored in a regulation game during the streak was 35 in 2001, when Kentucky lost by three in Lexington.

Fewest points allowed: 16, in 1991
This game actually wasn't particularly close. Kentucky mustered just 145 yards on 61 offensive plays the Wildcats' only score came early in the fourth quarter as the Cats were already down 16-0. The extra point was good, but Kentucky wouldn't score again. 16-7 would stand as the final margin of victory.

Fewest points scored: 0, four times (1985, 1993, 1994, 2002)
The Wildcats were shut out in 2002 despite going 7-5 on the year. Two of the other shutouts game under Bill Curry, who never had a winning season in seven years coaching the Wildcats. The 1993 and 1994 games were lost 48-0 and 52-0, respectively.

Closest margin of defeat: 2 points, twice (1987, 2007)
Both of these games weren't traditional two-point defeats. In 1987, Tennessee punter Bob Garmon ran out of the back of the end zone as time expired for a safety to preserve the win. The 2007 game was a four-overtime showdown that ended when Andre Woodson was tackled while trying to scramble for a two-point conversion to extend the game.

Widest margin of defeat: 52 points, in 1994

Latest Kentucky held a lead: :38 seconds remaining
Not including overtimes, the latest Kentucky has been on top came in 2004. Kentucky was up 31-22 entering the fourth quarter, but Tennessee scored a touchdown with 9:39 to go in the game to pull within two.

Then, Gerald Riggs capped an eight-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown to put the Volunteers up 37-31 with :38 seconds to go.

Biggest comeback for Tennessee: 15 points, 1995
After being shut out in back-to-back games by a combined 100 points in the two years before, Kentucky took a 24-9 year just after halftime thanks to Moe Williams' 26-yard run. Tennessee stormed back from there for a 34-31 win, capped when freshman Peyton Manning hit Greg Kyler for a 15-yard touchdown.

Biggest comeback for Kentucky: 17 points, 2007
The Cats trailed twice by 17 points in 2007. Tennessee held a 24-7 lead just before half and a 31-14 lead in the third quarter. But Kentucky rallied thanks to a two touchdowns from Andre Woodson to tie the game at 31 before falling in four overtimes.

Fourth quarter/overtime losses: 7
The perception is that Kentucky has always been much closer to beating the Vols than Florida, owners of another long winning streak against the Cats. But that's only been true recently. Kentucky has held the lead or been tied with Tennessee in the fourth quarter seven times since the streak began, but five of those came in the last 10 meetings. Before that, there were just two times Kentucky was ahead of Tennessee in the fourth quarter.

Kentucky held a lead in the fourth quarter or overtime in 1987, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007. The teams were tied once during the fourth quarter in 2009 before Tennessee won in overtime.

Most passing yards: 523, by Peyton Manning in 1997
Manning passed for 1,234 yards over Kentucky in four games in his career with 12 passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. He had two interceptions in four games while completing 74-114 passes.

But he was never better than he was in 1997. Manning completed 25-35 passes for 523 yards with five touchdowns, accumulating most of his stats through three quarters.

Kentucky's Tim Couch almost matched Manning, but fell short. Couch completed 35-50 passes for 476 yards and two touchdown passes, though he did throw three interceptions.

Most rushing yards:186, by Charlie Garner, in 1993
Tennessee's Garner holds the record for the most yards on the ground during the rivalry, though Montario Hardesty nearly broke that record in 2009.

Moe Williams still holds plenty of records at Kentucky, and his 151 rushing yards against Tennessee in 1995 are the most against the Vols since the streak began.

Most receiving yards: 205, by Denarius Moore in 2010
This game has been home to some monster receiving performances, particularly by Vols. But no one ever had more than the 205 yards he racked up last year.

By contrast, Kentucky's biggest performance through the air came early in the streak. Dee Smith had seven catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns in 1987.

Tee's tenure
Kentucky wide receivers coach Tee Martin played mop-up duty for the Volunteers in a 56-10 win in 1996 before ascending to the starter's role in 1998 and 1999. In two games against Kentucky, Martin completed 20-38 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 86 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception in his two starts against the Wildcats.

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