A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky’s defense not enough in 22-6 loss
to Vanderbilt as Stoops’ first season nears end


Kentucky wide receiver Javess Blue is tackled during the Wildcats' 15-6 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. (Photo by James Pennington)

Kentucky wide receiver Javess Blue is tackled during the Wildcats’ 22-6 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. (Photo by James Pennington)

 

NASHVILLE — As time runs out on Kentucky’s season, Mark Stoops’ first as coach and the last for some of the players who have carried the performance on the field, so mounts the frustration of two years’ worth of SEC losses; so gets heavier the emotion for Kentucky’s seniors that despite chances to break the losing streak in league play that’s now 14 games, it hasn’t happened yet.
[widgets_on_pages id=”James”]

 

Saturday’s 22-6 loss to Vanderbilt stung even more, then, for two reasons: It was more in reach in the fourth quarter than any other league game this year, and now the Wildcats only have two games left to get on the board before season’s end.

 

Vanderbilt took a 9-6 lead into the fourth quarter, and it should be noted that the 9-6 score, as it was, had no field goals. The Wildcats scored the first touchdown of the game, a Jojo Kemp two-yard rush on Kentucky’s first offensive possession, but Vanderbilt blocked the point-after attempt and returned it for a defensive conversion worth two points. Brian Kimbrow scored on a 21-yard rush with less than a minute left in the first quarter, and that score held through to the fourth quarter.

 

Before Vanderbilt scored two fourth-quarter field goals to make the score 15-6 and outside the reach of a single score, the Wildcats squandered plenty of scoring opportunities afforded them  because of how well their defense played. Jalen Whitlow threw a jump ball deep into Vanderbilt territory that Commodores cornerback Paris Head intercepted just outside the red zone. With just under a minute until halftime, Kentucky had 1st and 10 at the Commodores 41-yard line. A completion for a loss of a yard, an incompletion, and a Whitlow rush for a loss of one forced the Cats to end the first half on a hail mary into the end zone, which was intercepted near the goal line.

 

Kentucky started the second half with the ball a drive after stretching Vanderbilt’s defense inside its own territory before the Wildcats stalled out. But the first drive after halftime was as disastrous as it could have been without allowing a defensive touchdown. The Wildcats started the second half after a touchback by taking a delay of game penalty. An incompletion followed, and then Whitlow fumbled the snap on the next play and fell on it for a loss of four yards. A screen pass to Raymond Sanders went for a loss of two yards, and Landon Foster’s resulting punt went 32 yards, staying in Wildcats territory.
Still, the defense stood firm.

 

On the next drive, the Wildcats faced 4th and 6 from the Vanderbilt 29-yard line. Joe Mansour came on for a 47-yard field-goal attempt to tie the game. But it was a fake. Holder Jared Leet pulled up and ran left with the ball, and he was hit for a loss of two yards.

 

“If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t, but I can’t, and that’s the way it goes,” Stoops said. “Probably on that border where they were being very cautious. There’s no gimme with it, what 48 (yards) into the wind. I don’t think there’s any guarantee we make that. His leg looked a little bit off today on his kickoffs, so I didn’t know if he had the pop today to make it. I thought it was a decent percentage to go for the fake, and it didn’t work.”

 

Still, to that point in the game, with less than a quarter to play, the only tangible difference in the game, at least in looking at the score, was Vanderbilt’s defensive conversion. If Mansour’s PAT hadn’t been blocked and it had gone in, that score would have been 7-7 instead of 9-6.

 

“I’m upset, frustrated,” Stoops said. “I thought we played extremely hard, but we don’t make enough plays at critical times. We’ve got certain plays set up, certain shot set up offensively and we don’t make them. That’s the difference in the game. They made a few plays when they had to.”

 

For all that’s plagued the Wildcats this season, rarely has effort, and it didn’t Saturday. But that fourth quarter came, it went, and Vanderbilt finally got on the board because Kentucky’s defense couldn’t hold up anymore. The Commodores gained 141 yards in the fourth, and Kentucky gained 16. Through the first three quarters, the Wildcats had out-gained Vanderbilt by 74 yards despite their gaffes and missed opportunities.

 

As he has in weeks past, especially last week after a particularly deflating 48-17 loss to Missouri, Stoops confirmed his frustration with losing though confirming his steadfast belief that things are headed where they should be heading for the long term. The long-term only affects those that will be around for it, though. Players like Avery Williamson (whose second-quarter sack was among Kentucky’s highlights Saturday) and Donte Rumph (whose 10 tackles led the team and set a career high), who are seniors, won’t be around for that, though.

 

Given the defense’s performance Saturday, and given the opportunities late in the game, and given the relative few chances remaining to win a league game for the first time since Nov. 26, 2011—the day quarterback/wide receiver Matt Roark helped Kentucky to finally beat Tennessee—Saturday’s stung those seniors even more.

 

“It’s real tough, just to know that we had it right there in the bag and just couldn’t finish it,” Williamson said. “It’s real tough. You get sick of the same old thing. But I’ve got to keep myself together and keep on fighting because I know we’ve got two more games. We’ve got to go down to Georgia next week and they’ve got a good team. We’ve got to keep ourselves together, myself included.”


Related Posts

Leave a Comment