The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the visiting Vanderbilt Commodores on a windy Saturday afternoon. Long stretches of the game were a compendium of poor passing attacks, erratic special teams play, and long and methodical offensive possessions. The game lasted the length of a Lord of the Rings film, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it took longer than the entire trilogy.
And yet, the fireworks appeared late as Vanderbilt, trailing by a touchdown with a minute left in the game and without any timeouts, promptly drove down the field like they were a Bill Walsh 49er team. They were in Kentucky’s redzone with a long 20 seconds left, and with four downs in their back pocket.
The Kentucky defense held up, as it had for most of the night, and the Wildcats evened their record to 3-3. They head into their bye week with some wind in their sails. The Commodores travel back to Nashville with a 2-4 record, and will have to quickly regroup for their game next Saturday at Georgia.
What did we learn?
UK’s offense begins and ends with its running game. Kentucky ran the ball for 257 yards against a Vanderbilt defense that previously had only allowed an average of 160 rushing yards per game. UK has a stable of good running backs, and tonight the leading rusher was freshman Benny Snell who rushed for 94 yards on 20 carries. Quarterback Stephen Johnson and running backs Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams each added another 55 yards. UK needs its running game to be strong too, because the offense features an anemic passing attack. Johnson finished the game 10-for-24 for 49 yards, and one interception but he’s lucky he didn’t throw at least one to two more.
UK’s defense is improving. The last drive notwithstanding, the ‘Cats continue to have strong defensive performances of late. The front seven allowed 262 yards, 244 yards, and 223 yards rushing in the first three weeks of the season, but showed improvement against South Carolina and Alabama. Against Vanderbilt and formidable running back Ralph Webb, the Wildcats allowed just 141 rushing yards, which is right at Vandy’s season average. At the end of the first half, the Wildcats had only allowed 81 total yards, and did not allow an offensive touchdown.
Vanderbilt’s season rests on a precipice. Winning road games in the SEC is tough, but today’s loss is a tough one for the Derek Mason regime. The Commodores’ offense was effective in stretches, but was forced to settle for field goals when Kentucky was scoring touchdowns. An early 4th quarter injury to Webb dulled the Commodores attack, but it’s defense that lost the game for Vanderbilt. This season, the Vanderbilt defense has taken a step back. On Saturday they couldn’t get UK off the field only forcing three separate three-and-outs in 11 possessions against a one dimension offense. If the Commodores are to reach five wins, the defense will have to return to 2015 form and quickly.