This was a very frustrating game, to say the least.
To sum up the first quarter, Kentucky should have been leading 10-0 or even 14-0 as the quarter ended, but instead were down 7-3. Critical mistakes and missed plays by the 'Cats kept them from taking control of this game early like they should have.
From there, it was just a comedy of errors for both teams, but UK ultimately shot themselves in the foot more to give Vanderbilt a 21-17 win. There's really no other way to describe this. Kentucky has lost games they could have won this year, but this one they just gave away.
Here our are biggest takeaways from the game.
Drew Barker time?
Patrick Towles played well early on, but after throwing a critical red-zone interception in the second quarter, Mark Stoops sent out redshirt freshman Drew Barker for the rest of the first half. He promptly lead a touchdown drive that began with him throwing a beautiful 42-yard bomb to Jeff Badet to put UK back in scoring position
After a 13-yard run by Stanley Williams, Barker would then cap off the drive two plays later with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Timmons.
That was the first score of Barker's college career, and it gave UK a 10-7 lead. However, the 'Cats' next offensive possession would see Barker throw a pick-six to give the lead right back.
Barker would be unable to lead UK to points the rest of the half and into the third quarter before Towles eventually came back in and finished the game. If nothing else, it's safe to assume we'll see plenty of both QBs next week against Charlotte.
DROPS...and Lousy Blocks are Killers
Kentucky's offense is by no means a force to be a reckoned with, but it's painfully frustrating how many crucial passes UK receivers are dropping and keeping this unit from being a far better unit than what we've seen. Some are tough, perhaps even inaccurate throws by Towles that SEC-caliber receivers would still make, but some are just flat-out drops.
We saw one of each on the opening drive. The first was an over-the-shoulder grab Ryan Timmons dropped right through his arms on 1st-and-10:
College receivers make this catch: https://t.co/tWq9gACdox— Jason Marcum (@marcum89) November 14, 2015
The next drop came on the same drive on 3rd-and-14 after Towles scrambled out of the pocket and fired a tough wobbly pass for Garrett Johnson to grab, but it was one he should have made nonetheless:
SEC-caliber receivers make this play: https://t.co/a8L5yEFa8E— Jason Marcum (@marcum89) November 14, 2015
UK would end the drive with a field goal, but should have had a touchdown. The ensuing UK possession would be a 3-and-out thanks to a four-yard loss on 1st-down when Dorian Baker threw a piss-poor block that led to Sihiem King getting tackled for the loss:
I'm no expert, but 2nd-and-14s end up leading to punts a very high percentage of the time. That one poor block effectively cost UK a possession.
But the real killer was in the fourth quarter with 5:30 left in the game and UK down 21-17 as Dorian Baker dropped a 3rd-and-3 pass that would have been for a 1st down.
That was pretty much it. Vandy would run the clock down and ice the game. These drops and missed blocks have been killing this offense, but they've been magnified now that they've happened in a close loss vs the 20-plus point losses UK had suffered the previous three weeks.
'Cats Finally Fought Back
Mississippi State isn't 26 points better than Kentucky.
Tennessee isn't 21 points better than Kentucky
Georgia isn't 24 points better than Kentucky.
All of those teams beat Kentucky by those amount of points because they got up big and Kentucky didn't fight hard enough of both sides of the ball once they faced adversity.
Credit the players for playing with passion and effort. Big difference between tonight and last week.— Freddie Maggard (@FredMaggard) November 15, 2015
That finally changed in this game as UK battled back from another double-digit deficit. Though they couldn't pull it out, they never quit and fought until the end. That alone is a dramatic improvement over the past three games, but it certainly doesn't take the sting of this loss away.
This Loss is on Offense and Special Teams
When you commit three turnovers, get turned over on downs at the goal line, throw a pick-six, turn the ball over inside your own 10-yard line, convert just 4-of-16 3rd downs, get a punt blocked, miss a 37-yard field goal (after committed a delay-of-game penalty), and fail to complete even 50% of your passes, you don't deserve to win. All of this is what UK's offense and special teams did while the defense held Vandy to a modest 301 yards of offense while forcing them into two turnovers.
Most of UK's losses have been on both the offense and defense and occasionally special teams. This time, the defense deserves praise for how they played.