For two quarters, the Kentucky football team worried the unthinkable was going to happen.
A loss to Vanderbilt would have set up two agonizing weeks of waiting and thinking about the notorious losing streak to Tennessee and bowl eligibility. Could you imagine a UK team that would have to sit through a bye week with the sting of six losses and figure out how to end the streak just to make it to a bowl game?
It may have been an impossible situation to overcome and quite possibly the two longest weeks of Joker Phillips' life.
Fortunately for Phillips, the fan base and the Cats, that scenario is no longer in play. Kentucky woke from its first-half sleepwalk to defeat Vanderbilt 38-20 on Saturday afternoon in front of 60,391 fans on Senior Day. It was by no means a masterpiece against a struggling Vanderbilt team, but the Cats did what no team has done in program history by clinching bowl eligibility for the fifth straight season.
"I'm proud of this senior group," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We talked last night. "They didn't want to let this thing go. They want to be a part of this thing as long as they possibly can. Only way they can be any longer is to get ourselves into an extra game, and they went out and did that."
Where Kentucky heads this holiday season may not be the place the Cats envisioned at the beginning of the year, but for a program that went to just 10 bowl games prior to the 2006 season, getting to a bowl game still means something.
"It means the world to me, especially (for) the fifth year seniors that came here," Phillips said. "Myself and Rich (Brooks) went into their homes, sold them our vision, our dreams. It was only our vision and our dreams. They had nothing to do with it. They hoped that we would get in bowl games and those things. For us to be able to sell them our vision, our dreams, and they believed in them. Now going out with five straight bowl games, that means the world to me."
Credit a talent-filled junior and an emotional speech by a wise veteran with turning an ugly first half into a second-quarter romp.
Let's start with the former.
Cobb, who admitted after the game the possibility that it could be his final game in Commonwealth Stadium crossed his mind, ran wild again. In breaking the single-season all-purpose yardage mark, Cobb ran for a career-high 170 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Phillips said Locke injected "juice" into his team with a career-long 73-yard touchdown run on UK's first drive of the second half. As if he was shot out of a cannon, Cobb rushed off the left guard on a quarterback keeper to give UK a 17-13 lead.
"Somebody came by and said, 'You can't coach that.' You can't," Phillips said of the "it" factor Cobb possesses. "You can't coach what he has."
Cobb's best run, maybe of his career, came two drives later. On a designed throw for Cobb, the 5-foot-10, 186-pound junior scrambled away from two would-be sacks, ran down the left sideline, cut it back across the field and shook a couple more defenders - all before finally running out of gas and stepping out of bounds on the right sideline.
The end result was a video-game like 52-yard run. If Cobb was in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy, that would have been his signature play.
"It made me feel like I was back in high school for a second," Cobb said of the dazzling play.
But it wasn't all Cobb. A defense that gave up 242 yards to the Southeastern Conference's worst statistical offense turned it around in the second half - a common storyline this season - by holding Vanderbilt to 158-second half yards.
Credit the turnaround to senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin for a curse-filled, emotional speech in the locker room at halftime.
"I'm a guy that, I don't like to talk too much to my teammates because I feel like if you're on them all the time, whether you're a coach or a player, people start to ignore you," Lumpkin said. "This is one of those times where I was just like 'bleep' it. I'm going to say what's on my mind."
The coaching staff told the team at halftime that it was on the players after a dismal first-half effort. Phillips told the players not to take the field in the second half if they weren't playing inspired football.
After the coaching staff left, Lumpkin stood up and sent one more message.
"The next thing I know I'm speaking what's on my mind," Lumpkin said. "People are listening and people are getting riled up. I told them what they what we were playing for. You better look like a team that's playing for a bowl game. In the first half we looked like a team that was packing it in, trying to go home for Christmas. In the second half it turned."
In his first game since injuring his shoulder against Auburn, senior Derrick Locke rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, but 83 yards of it came on one carry. Locke admitted that he isn't 100 percent.
Still, to come back and help the senior class to yet another bowl game on Senior Day was special for Locke.
"I wanted to give the fans something to remember me by," Locke said. "I felt like I did that. All the seniors, I felt like we did that. We went out on a good note, but now we need to finish on a good note. To give the fans what they want, we have to win at Tennessee."
But instead of limping into Knoxville, Tenn., in desperate need of a win, UK can clean its wounds during the bye week and then head to Tennessee with a newfound confidence.
"If we could go play them tonight, I would go down there tonight right now and play them," Cobb said. "I'd give you everything I have, everything I've got left after this game, which I still feel like I've got a lot of energy right now. Expect a lot from us when we go to Knoxville."
With bowl eligibility taken care of, the goal is on ending The Streak.
"I think that would put something on our season that we haven't had in the past," Cobb said. "We've been able to go to bowl games and we've been able to end some streaks, but I think that streak is something that a lot of folks want ended. I think that would put a cap on our season. I think everybody would be a little more satisfied with our season than they are now."