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Keith Taylor: UK gets expected but ‘significant’ win over Austin Peay to earn ticket to postseason

Kentucky is bowl bound.

The Wildcats (6-5) notched their elusive sixth victory of the season with a 49-13 rout of Austin Peay Saturday, handing the winless Governors their 27th straight setback while punching a ticket to the postseason for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Benny Snell rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns in UK's win over Austin Peay Saturday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Benny Snell rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns in UK’s win over Austin Peay Saturday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky fell behind 13-0 in the home finale but posted a shutout following the first quarter and scored seven straight touchdowns to overcome a sluggish start.

“I thought our team really showed their toughness all season and it was evident again tonight,” Stoops said. “When we needed it, we got physical, and the guys played exceptionally well.”

Kentucky players, especially the 11 seniors honored prior to kickoff, were elated after getting the elusive sixth victory.

“I think this is just a moment where we can finally be able to be happy because this is something that hasn’t been done in a while,” Kentucky junior running back Stanley “Boom” Williams said. “These seniors have put in a lot of work since they came here to now, so just to be able to see those guys happy. We were able to achieve something that hasn’t been done in six years.”

Indeed, it’s been a long time coming for Kentucky, which finished 5-7 in each of the past two seasons. A fast start, followed by a meltdown during the second-half of the season stood between the Wildcats and a bowl berth during the past two years.

This time, things were different.

Kentucky opened the season with two straight losses, including a disappointing 44-35 loss to Southern Mississippi, followed by a complete washout at Florida in the Southeastern Conference opener.

Since then, the Wildcats have compiled a 6-3 record and were in the conversation for notching the school’s first-ever SEC East title until losses to Georgia and Tennessee during the last three weeks eliminated Kentucky from contention.

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

Despite the late-season letdown in the final two conference games, Kentucky won four of five games during a crucial stretch that propelled the Wildcats to at least four victories in the conference for the first time in a decade. Kentucky defeated the teams it needed to beat (South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Mississippi State) to have a chance at reaching the postseason.

“I think it’s a big step in the culture change,” Stoops said. “And we want this to be the norm to go to bowl games and win over six games and that’s our plan.”

Going into Saturday’s regular-season finale against rival Louisville, the question is not if Kentucky will reach the postseason, but where the Wildcats will play, a refreshing take, especially after coming one win shy of becoming bowl eligible during the past two seasons.

“We’re knocking doors down as often as we can,” Stoops said. “This was a significant one. I’ve said that all along. Like I said, I’ve said it in the preseason, and I said it when we sitting here at 0-2 and not playing very good football. And I still had a lot of confidence in this football team and knew, without a doubt, that we were going to go to work and get better every day.

“And this team has gotten better every day and every week. Doesn’t mean you’re always going to play perfect, but we’re getting better, and they’re getting better. And we’re getting — there’s just always things to learn from and this is part of it.”

It’s been so long since Kentucky has even talked football after the Thanksgiving holiday that any bowl will do and is the first step in the climb back to reaching the postseason on a consistent basis.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Louisville, noon, Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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