Randall Cobb refused to take the bait.
The Kentucky wide receiver spent 10 minutes Monday fielding the same question in slightly different form, and refused to budge from the party line.
This weekend’s regular season finale against Tennessee is just another game, Cobb said. No different than Louisville or Florida or Charleston Southern for that matter.
When pressed on the issue, particularly if the Alcoa, Tenn., native feels any extra motivation to end Kentucky’s 25-year losing streak to the Volunteers and Cobb just shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ve got nothing to say this week,” he said. “I’m going to talk with my pads.”
And then he smiled just a little.
Cobb doesn’t need to be reminded about Kentucky’s quarter century of futility against its border rival. He’s lived with it since the day he stepped on campus and hears about it whenever he heads back home.
The Wildcats (6-5, 2-5) have come close in recent years, losing in overtime to the Volunteers (5-6, 2-5) in two of the last three seasons.
While lengthy losing streaks to certain opponents is nothing new at Kentucky, the Wildcats have done a decent job of ending certain hexes. Kentucky finally found a way to beat South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier this season after 17 straight losses and have made knocking off in-state rival Louisville a habit.
The streak against Tennessee, however, is the one that comes with a capital S.
“Of course you think about it,” said senior off ensive tackle Brad Durham. “This is the big one.”
One the rested Wildcats think they can end.
Kentucky spent its bye week getting healthy and regaining its focus.
Cobb returned to Alcoa and had his high school jersey retired during a halftime ceremony before enjoying an early Thanksgiving dinner with his family.
There was plenty of talk about the Volunteers, who have won three straight after a shaky start under first-year coach Derek Dooley. Cobb took it all in stride — he always does — and took any well-wishers with a grain of salt.
“I had a lot of people coming up to me saying they hope we win, but I know how they are,” he said. “They’re just talking the talk.”
Cobb would prefer to walk the walk, something the Wildcats haven’t done against the Volunteers since 1984. Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips was a wide receiver on that team but has no plans to pop in video tape of the game to show his players that it’s possible to win at Neyland Stadium.
“These guys have to find their own way,” Phillips said.
The Wildcats will have to find it without junior defensive tackle Mark Crawford, who has been suspended for the remainder of the season after violating team rules. His absence will mean more playing time for freshman Donte Rumph, who has seen sporadic playing time this season.
Though Phillips and the rest of the have done their best to deemphasize the importance of ending the streak, there’s little doubt how badly Kentucky wants to put it in the rearview mirror.
A sticker saying “Beat Tennessee” was taped to the door outside the program’s interview room on Monday and there are massive banners at the football complex urging the same. Durham wore a T-shirt with the numbers “517” on it and acknowledged it had something to do with Tennessee but refused to say what it meant, hinting there would be a steep price to pay if word of the T-shirt’s message got out before the game.
A win would not only end the streak but bolster Kentucky’s bowl prospects while keeping the Volunteers at home for the holidays.
It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often and the Wildcats know it. The game will be Cobb’s last chance to play so close to his hometown. He’s not sure if he’ll return for his senior season, but a victory over Tennessee could certainly allow him to scratch a major item off his “to do” list before heading to the NFL.
Not that Cobb wants to talk about it.
“All we’re worried about is preparing and executing,” he said. “If we do those two things, the rest will take care of itself.”