After he made his way through the crowded media room that was the Wildcat Den on Saturday, Mark Stoops took his usual seat for the postgame press conference and opened with a deadpan.
"That was a thing of beauty," said the Kentucky football coach.
Laughter filled the room.
"For a defensive guy, it was," said the coach.
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For Kentucky football, which had suffered through a 17-game SEC losing streak, which had witnessed the ignominy of being trounced by Vanderbilt three consecutive seasons — yes, Vanderbilt — the Cats' 17-7 victory over the Commodores at Commonwealth Stadium may not have been a Michelangelo, but it was pleasing nonetheless.
And if you have been a UK football fan impatiently waiting for the day when a Kentucky defense could carry the day, Saturday was your day — and this is your team.
After all, defense is what brought Stoops to the attention of Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart in the first place, back when he was returning rock-'em-sock-'em to Florida State and Kentucky was in the market for a head coach.
And here in Stoops' Troops Year Two, you can see the seeds of a pretty decent defense starting to take root.
Truth be told, Kentucky's offense was not very good Saturday. It failed to gain 400 yards on the day, turned the ball over three times and was blanked the final 30 minutes.
"In the second half," admitted coordinator Neal Brown, "we really played poorly."
"You need somebody to step up when that happens," said quarterback Patrick Towles, who accounted for Vanderbilt's only touchdown via an interception. "Fortunately for us, our defense played great."
That it did, holding the Commodores to a measly 139 yards of total offense, the fewest by an SEC foe since 1996. Bill Curry was the Kentucky coach back then.
The defense harassed Vanderbilt's poor true freshman quarterback Wade Freebeck into just eight completions in 25 attempts for a paltry 85 yards. Freebeck was sacked four times. He threw three interceptions — in the fourth quarter.
Seven plays after UK turned the ball over on downs, safety Marcus McWilson got it back with a fourth-down interception. Two plays after Towles fumbled away the football, A.J. Stamps got it back with an interception. Three plays after Demarco Robinson fumbled away a punt, Ashely Lowery got the ball back with yet another pick.
"Those came with good pressure and good team defense," said Stoops afterward.
The pressure came up front from the usual suspects, star defensive ends Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith, but also from a series of blitz packages that rattled the Vandy rookie.
"I always tell Coach Eliot the same thing," said safety Blake McClain of defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. "When in doubt, blitz."
The difference this year is Stoops' players are well-schooled enough and talented enough to avoid the burning sensation that can come when the schematic tricks fail.
"They executed well and played with great desire," Stoops said. "You put that together, and you're always going to have a great chance."
Yes, dear critics, these are not the James Franklin Commodores of Jordan Matthews and Zac Stacy. This is the Derek "I'm Not in Stanford Anymore" Mason Music City reclamation project. Mason is playing a team full of 18- and 19-year-olds.
And yes, dear critics, this same Kentucky defense allowed 532 yards to a Florida offense Alabama smothered a Saturday ago. We get that, but we also get this: Saturday was just the third time since 2008 that Kentucky scored as few as 17 points and won the football game.
"We're also proud of the fact that we've played two SEC games this year and given ourselves a chance to win both," Stoops said.
Kentucky won one — Hallelujah, the streak is dead! — and next face a coach in South Carolina's Steve Spurrier with a proven history of making even good defenses look bad.
"It will be a real challenge," Stoops said.
Saturday showed, however, the UK coach is building a defense that when facing such a challenge, might just give the Cats a chance.