UK Football

The Blue Preview: Stoops faces another must-win against Vanderbilt

Kentucky running back Boom Williams stretched the ball toward the Vanderbilt goal line in an unsuccessful effort to score a touchdown in last season’s 21-17 UK loss in Nashville.
Kentucky running back Boom Williams stretched the ball toward the Vanderbilt goal line in an unsuccessful effort to score a touchdown in last season’s 21-17 UK loss in Nashville. palcala@herald-leader.com

Vanderbilt at Kentucky

When: 4 p.m.

Where: Commonwealth Stadium

TV: SEC Network (play-by-play Dave Neal; analyst Matt Stinchcomb; sideline Olivia Harlan)

Radio: WLAP AM-630, WBUL FM-98.1, XM Channel 190, Sirius Channel 83

Records: Vanderbilt 2-3 (0-2 SEC); Kentucky 2-3 (1-2 SEC)

Series: Tied 42-42-4

Last meeting: Vanderbilt won 21-17 in Nashville on Nov. 14, 2015, and has won four of the last five

Favorite: Kentucky is favored by three points

The storyline

UK will seek to avenge a crushing defeat in Nashville a season ago in a game the Wildcats cost themselves with a series of miscues and perplexing coaching decisions. That 2015 loss to Vanderbilt kept Kentucky from bowl eligibility.

On the spot

Mark Stoops. By blowing a big halftime lead and falling to Southern Mississippi in the season opener, Stoops and Kentucky left themselves with all but no margin of error in terms of earning UK’s first bowl trip since the 2010 season. Just as the South Carolina game two weeks ago was must-win for Stoops, so too is this one. It’s hard to see how the fourth-year Kentucky head man can get to six wins without a “W” over Vandy.

The big threat

Ralph Webb. Vanderbilt’s 5-foot-10, 202-pound junior running back comes to Lexington as the leading rusher in the SEC (582 yards, 116.4 yards a game). A season ago, Webb carried 33 times against the Cats, gaining 115 yards. Given how spotty UK’s run defense has been in 2016 (allowing 198.6 yards a game), it would be no shock if Webb got 30-plus touches again.

The mood

Is relieved. After Kentucky absorbed a no-show, 45-7 loss at Florida in its first road game of 2016, UK backers were pleased the Cats at least showed fight while falling 34-6 last week at No. 1 Alabama. A win over Vanderbilt will keep the baying hounds away from the front door of Mark Stoops. A loss, however, will turn the atmosphere toxic just as Kentucky enters a bye week.

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