LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Kentucky hoped to send its seniors away victorious and take a small step forward in the rebuilding process.
Instead, the Wildcats ended a second straight winless season in the Southeastern Conference with a 27-14 loss to Tennessee on Saturday night.
Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore running back Dyshawn Mobley had a career-high 143 yards. But they couldn't stop the Wildcats (2-10, 0-8) from losing their 16th consecutive SEC game.
"We are all disappointed with the 2013 season when it comes to the wins and losses, and I take responsibility for that," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "And I need to do a better job, and all of us will, and we'll continue to keep on grinding and keep on pushing this program."
Three big plays gave Tennessee (5-7, 2-6) a 20-0 lead in the first half. Rajion Neal scored on a 60-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage. Freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs' first career touchdown pass gave the Vols a 14-0 lead. Dobbs' 43-yard pass to Joshua Croom was nearly intercepted by cornerback Jaleel Hytchye, but he bobbled it on the goal line before Croom plucked it for a score.
Dobbs scampered 40 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to push the lead to three possessions. Kentucky scored in the closing minutes of the first half, but the Vols cruised through the second half.
Kentucky's last SEC win came in the season finale against Tennessee on Nov. 26, 2011, but the Vols have beaten the Wildcats in 27 of the last 28 meetings between the teams dating back to 1985.
Kentucky hadn't gone winless in league play in back-to-back years since 1941-42. The school didn't field a team in 1943 because of World War II.
"It was tough," senior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I feel like we definitely had some games we could have won, but we just couldn't close. It's tough. Those guys are going to keep working, and they're going to go out next year and I know they're going to get some."
Stoops drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter while arguing a pass interference call with the officials. By then, Tennessee led 27-7 and was intent on running out the final minutes of the season.
"I don't feel relief," Stoops said. "I'm disappointed. We really put a lot into this game. I thought we were excited to play and wanted to go out and play better than that. I'm disappointed right now."
Smith didn't practice on Tuesday and was limited on Wednesday, but was pressed into starting duty nonetheless. Quarterback Jalen Whitlow, who had started eight games this season, was limited to a handful of snaps with a neck injury that hadn't fully healed.
Tennessee defensive end Corey Miller, who entered the game with five career sacks, had a record 4.5 to pass Reggie White, who had four against The Citadel in 1983.
Dobbs finished 14 of 23 passing for 199 yards and an interception.
Saturday marked the last time as the season finale between the schools. Kentucky will face in-state rival Louisville beginning next season with the Wildcats' border rivalry moving up in the schedule.
It was also Commonwealth Stadium's final game in its current configuration before work starts soon on a two-year renovation that will add suites and a recruiting lounge while modernizing other facilities.
Kentucky finished with 393 yards of total offense, its best performance in an SEC game this season. But the Wildcats allowed 417 yards and struggled to convert on third down. The Wildcats managed a second-quarter touchdown drive with some trick plays including sending Smith in motion on one play and Mobley taking a direct snap from the wildcat formation on another.