- Associated Press - Friday, November 18, 2016

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The postseason goal Kentucky coach Mark Stoops pitched to his initial recruits seemed hard to envision and more difficult to achieve after all the years of losing.

Stoops and the Wildcats can make that postseason dream a realization for those upperclassmen on Saturday against Austin Peay.

Fourteen Kentucky seniors will be honored before they take on winless Austin Peay (0-10) in what they hope will culminate in becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Kentucky (5-5) has come tantalizingly close the past two years to bowl eligibility only to finish 5-7 each time with season-ending losses to rival Louisville. But four Southeastern Conference wins this fall have propelled the program to the brink of playing in December - a reward the veterans always believed would happen.

“It makes it real sweet,” senior defensive back Blake McClain said. “We’ve been through the 2-10 (seasons) twice, we’ve been through the six straight losses and just to get to where we are is real sweet. We could’ve won more games this year, but I like how it’s coming about.”

Kentucky’s bowl quest appeared doubtful after starting 0-2 and seemed in jeopardy just a few weeks ago before the Wildcats rallied past Mississippi State 40-38 with a last-second field goal. They want to end their two-game losing streak since then against the FCS Governors, who are desperate to snap a 26-game losing streak.

Austin Peay has taken small steps forward despite finishing 0-8 in Ohio Valley Conference play. After combining for 249 points the previous two years, it has scored 246 this season and is on track for its highest total since 2007 (275).

That includes last week’s 67-30 loss to Eastern Kentucky, in which Austin Peay scored a season high in points. Stoops has used the Governors’ growth as an example to motivate his players not to look past them as Kentucky pursues a milestone.

“We are in no position to overlook anybody,” the fourth-year coach said. “We are worried about ourselves and worried about getting better and pushing the program forward. And getting six wins and getting to the bowl game. … it is very important for us to do that.”


Some other things to watch when Kentucky hosts Austin Peay:

RED ZONE WOES: By all accounts Kentucky left points on the field at Tennessee having to settle for three field goals instead of touchdowns on six red-zone trips that could have changed the 49-36 outcome . Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has stressed better execution this week to pay off more near the goal line. “We’ve got to be able to throw the ball when we’re down there and take a shot instead of waiting for third down,” he said. “We’ve got to get seven (points) instead of living on three.”

MR. VERSATILITY: Austin Peay freshman Kentel Williams broke an OVC record with 399 all-purpose yards against EKU, including 176 yards rushing (with a 7-yard touchdown); and 181 kick return yards with a 97-yard TD. Williams leads the team in rushing with 417 yards and five TDs on 76 carries.

EXCLUSIVE CLUB: Junior Boom Williams (1,025) became the seventh Wildcat with 1,000 rushing yards in a season, and freshman Benny Snell (854) could became the eighth with another big game. The duo needs one yard to break the school record for combined rushing yards set by Sonny Collins and Mike Fanuzzi (1,879) in 1974.

KEY TARGET: Governors WR Jared Beard needs just 80 yards to become the program’s third player to reach 1,000 yards in a season. He ranks eighth nationally in FCS in receptions per game (6.9) and 14th in receiving yards (920).


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