Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 14-7 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday:
1. This Kentucky defense can’t stop, won’t stop.
On a chilly, windy night at Kroger Field, the defense did it again. With the Kentucky offense continuing to struggle, the defense did it again. With ill-timed penalties and sloppy turnovers continually jumping up to hurt the Cats’ cause, the defense did it again.
Mark Stoops’ club is now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC thanks to a defense that held Vanderbilt to seven points and a grand total of 284 yards. The Commodores were just four-of-13 on third down. They were zero-for-one on fourth down and failed to score on either of their two red zone chances.
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“Love the way the defense played really all night,” said Stoops afterward.
Heading into the game, Kentucky ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 13.8 points per game. After Saturday night, UK has allowed just 90 points in seven games, an average of 12.9 per game. They have not allowed a team to score more than 20 points in a game all season – and Texas A&M needed an overtime to get to 20 points.
“It means a lot,” Stoops said. “We talked about that. We said that to the defense today, going into the game, that every yard and every point was personal. It means something to us.”
Right now it means winning football.
2. Kentucky still needs to relocate its passing game.
When asked in the post-game press conference, Stoops admitted that without hesitation. Yes, the running game was terrific. Yes, Benny Snell was again a bull, rushing for 169 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. The junior carried the football 10 times on the 12-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with Snell scoring from five yards out for a 14-7 lead.
But the Cats managed just 18 yards through the air, the fewest passing yards in a game since UK passed for just 15 yards against Tennessee in 2011. The Cats completed only three passes, the fewest since Drew Barker and Stephen Johnson went three-of-14 for 55 yards with three interceptions in a 45-7 loss at Florida in 2016.
Quarterback Terry Wilson was three-of-nine on the night for 18 yards. He did throw a perfect five-yard touchdown pass to Lynn Bowden in the second quarter that tied the game at 7-7. And he found Bowden on an 11-yard slant on third-and-11 in the third quarter for a first down.
There were also errant throws, however, including a first-quarter pass that turned into a lateral with the ball bouncing off Bowden’s hands before being recovered by a Commodore. It wasn’t designed as a lateral? “No,” said UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “It was not.”
Gran said he knew going into the game that UK needed to run the ball. He put 50 attempts as the magic number. The Cats ended up running the ball 53 times. Still, he knows the passing game must improve if the Cats have a shot of going to Atlanta.
“We need to get better,” Gran said. “At the end of the day, we need to get better. We need to get better throwing the ball. We need to get better at doing some little things. It’s not just on Terry. There’s us as an offense, me as a coordinator, whatever that may be.”
3. Kentucky is very much in the hunt for Hot-lanta.
Both Georgia and Florida were off Saturday, resting up for the annual “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” next Saturday in Jacksonville. So Kentucky’s win Saturday night puts the Cats in an official three-way tie for first place in the SEC East at 4-1.
UK has Missouri (road), Georgia (home) and Tennessee (road) remaining. Georgia has Florida (neutral), Kentucky (road) and Auburn (home) remaining. Florida has Georgia (neutral), Missouri (home) and South Carolina (home) remaining. UK has already beaten Florida.
The Cats are also just one win away from clinching their first SEC winning season since 1977. “It hasn’t been talked about,” Stoops said. “It is important. It’s an SEC game, next game. It’s very important.”
It’s doubtful that the Cats will move up much in the rankings, but there is a chance down the road they could end up in the AP Top 10 for the first time since 2007. “Obviously, it shows you’re winning,” Stoops said. “That means something to us.”
The main goal, however, is the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. With that in mind, UK couldn’t afford to lose as an 11-point favorite to a Vandy team now 0-4 in the SEC. Stoops’ squad found a way to win, so now it’s on to Missouri where Kentucky will try to pick up its second road conference win.
And stay in the hunt for its first SEC East title.
SEC football standings