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Sports Notes: Kentucky’s season, bowl hopes figure to hinge on tough road match with Vanderbilt

By Glenn Osborne
KyForward sports editor

The SEC Network experts analyzing the Kentucky-Georgia game Saturday were unanimous in their predictions. None of them thought much of the Wildcats’ chances to pull off the upset between the hedges.

Their opinion about coach Mark Stoops’ troops sure didn’t improve much following a 27-3 blowout that saw UK outscored 17-0 over the final two quarters and out-gained in total yardage by a stunning 390-180 margin.

They concluded by saying Kentucky would be favored in only one of its final three games, the penultimate contest of the year against Charlotte. They expect Vandy to whip the Cats this Saturday in Nashville and for suddenly resurgent Louisville (5-4, three straight wins) to bring the curtain down on another bowl-less season in the New Commonwealth Stadium on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Connor product Drew Barker could see additional playing this this Saturday when the Wildcats take on Vanderbilt (UK Athletics Photo)

Connor product Drew Barker could see additional playing this this Saturday when the Wildcats take on Vanderbilt (UK Athletics Photo)

That would leave Kentucky at 5-7 once again, and on the outside looking in at post-season play. It would mean the Cats had dropped six of their final seven games to finish a second successive season following a promising start (4-1, 2-1 SEC) with a late-year collapse (1-6, 0-5 SEC).

Once again, as it often does through the years, a season comes down to the outcome of the Kentucky-Vandy game. UK managed to defeat the Commodores 17-7 last year, but that game was played in September and didn’t have the impact on the season that this year’s matchup does. Vandy is just 3-6 overall, 1-4 in SEC play, but it is 3-3 on its home field, threw a scare into the East Division champion Florida a week ago and will come into this game with the 19th best defense among 127 FBS teams.

Kentucky hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut this season, so points figure to be tough to come by. Based on the Cats’ performance over the last three weeks, it’s difficult to foresee them righting the ship in Music City.

If they do, then a Charlotte win gets them into a bowl and an upset of Bobby Petrino’s Cards results in a winning season. I’m just not counting on it.

The game kicks off at 4 p.m. on the SEC Network.

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Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles received a large share of the blame for the loss to Georgia after hurling two interceptions and accounting for a season-low eight completions (21 attempts) and just 96 yards. He has six interceptions against two touchdown passes over his last four outings.

Both Stoops and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said quarterback would be among the positions that will be re-evaluated at practice this week. Towles, the Highlands product, could be replaced by backup Drew Barker, the red-shirt freshman from neighboring Connor. At the least, Barker figures to get an early call if Towles’ struggles continue at Vandy.

But the shaky Towles was far from the Cats’ only problem. The offensive line again failed to protect the passer or open many running lanes for the backs; the wide receivers continued to drop catchable balls; critical penalties continued to come at the worst possible times; the absence of Boom Williams’ explosiveness was glaringly obvious. And UK’s defense allowed the Dogs to run for 300 yards. Yikes.

Still, the season is on the line Saturday and just continuing to do the same things with the same players week after week as the losses mount doesn’t make much sense.

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Florida outlasted Vandy last week and clinched the East Division and a spot in the SEC Championship while Alabama handled LSU easily, taking a 30-16 decision to tie the Tigers atop the West Division. Arkansas topped Mississippi in five overtimes in another upset while Tennessee and Auburn were also in the win column, taking down South Carolina and Texas A&M, respectively.

Alabama-Mississippi State is the marquis game this weekend. Other key matchups include LSU hosting Arkansas and Georgia visiting Auburn. Tennessee, Texas A&M and Missouri all step out of conference play this weekend.

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Looking ahead, Charlotte lost to Florida International 48-31 it its most recent outing, dropping the 49ers to 2-7 overall and 0-6 it their conference. Louisville was a 41-17 winner over Syracuse behind 362 passing yards by former Lexington Catholic sophomore Kyle Bolin (remember that name?), who was in the lineup in place of the injured Lamar Jackson.

The Cardinals accounted for a season-high 579 yards of offense, including 217 on the ground.

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Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty continued his remarkable season, completing 24 of 29 passes for 273 yards and four scores as the Hilltoppers bolted past Florida Atlantic, 35-19. Doughty even caught a touchdown pass on a reverse play.

He is now in the top 25 in the FBS in career touchdown passes and in the top 40 in yardage (11,383). He has thrown a touchdown pass in 24 consecutive contests, the top such streak in the nation.

Doughty was recently named a semifinalist for the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards.

Both will announce three finalists each on Nov. 24, with the winners of the two prestigious honors to be announced on Thursday, Dec. 10, on The Home Depot College Football Awards show on ESPN. The Maxwell is awarded to the collegiate player of the year, while the Davey O’Brien is given to the top quarterback.

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