Hope is still alive in Lexington for Coach Mark Stoops and the Wildcats after surviving a 4th and goal from its own 9-yard line with seven seconds left to oust the Commodores Saturday 20-13. With a record now of 3-3, Kentucky must find three more wins in order to reach the postseason for the first time since 2010...
Here’s a look at what they’re saying...
Kentucky D gives up 141 yards rushing, 141 passing, no TDs, wins 20-13— Vaughts' Views (@vaughtsviews) October 8, 2016
Not that Vanderbilt’s offense is anything to write home about, but going an entire game without giving up a touchdown is always a positive in my book.
Stoops: Benny Snell tough runner, tough attitude, no BS attitude. Boom will be fine. Sure he's frustrated. Credit JoJo, big play.— Freddie Maggard (@FredMaggard) October 8, 2016
Jojo Kemp scored on a four-yard touchdown in the Wildcats’ opening drive. Stanley “Boom” Williams fumbled on Kentucky’s first drive of the second half resulting in Vanderbilt’s only touchdown of the day. It also resulted in Boom riding the bench for the remainder of the half. On the other hand, true freshman Benny Snell carried the ball 20 times for 94 yards. Through all of Boom’s success, the junior has never had more than 18 carries in a single game. Hopefully Boom bounces back, but what a start for Snell.
Stoops gets close to an emotional moment talking about how hard it has been to stay the course with a "toxic" environment at times.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) October 9, 2016
It can’t be easy. We would all feel a lot better had Kentucky held on against Southern Miss in the second half of the season opener. But give Stoops credit for winning his last two ‘most important games of the season.’ It doesn’t get any easier, but a constant stream of negative comments/attitude from fans does not help matters. And I’ve been guilty of complaints, too.
But don’t forget, Rich Brooks was 3-4 seeking his first season above .500 in 2006 (his fourth year at UK). He then rallied off four consecutive victories, including wins at Mississippi State and at home vs. Georgia, to get the Cats to 7-4 before dropping its final game at Tennessee. That was Kentucky’s most successful season in 22 years. There’s still a decent chance Stoops can turn this thing around.
Meaning UK has to find a way to get Stephen Johnson going in the passing game. Receivers are too good to waste. https://t.co/OVdk63bBqI— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) October 9, 2016
Stephen Johnson completed 10 passes vs. Vanderbilt for only 49 total yards through the air. While he didn’t record any fumbles, he did throw an interception on the very next drive after Boom Williams fumbled for a touchdown. If Kentucky is going to beat Mississippi State and Missouri, either Johnson must be more productive in the passing game, or Kentucky has to simply stop turning the ball over. The margin of error is too small.
UK linebackers improving. Getting much better pressure recently. Credit House and Eliot. Sophomores Jones, Allen & Ware - bright futures.— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) October 9, 2016
This unit was one of the big question marks entering the season, and after the first two weeks it looked like there was no desire to improve. Credit both the defensive coaches and the linebacker corps for stepping it up.
Two more bowl projections: Kentucky vs. Tulsa in the Birmingham Bowl, Kentucky vs. Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl. https://t.co/jfRCnHQvsd— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) October 10, 2016
As I said earlier, still a long way to go. But these types of projections are encouraging for fans, players, and coaches alike. Beat State.
The Courier-Journal’s John Hale reported on sophomore Denzil Ware’s comments to the fan base after the victory:
Sophomore outside linebacker Denzil Ware credits an us-against-the-world mentality for driving the team’s turnaround.
After the Vanderbilt game, Ware again referenced ESPN “College GameDay” analyst Lee Corso’s comments about Kentucky possibly having “the worst defense in the history of football” before the South Carolina game as a key to the defense’s recent surge.
“We just really wanted to prove everybody wrong, because I felt like everybody had lost faith in us,” Ware said.
Having proven doubters wrong for an extended stretch of games, Ware said he and his teammates are now playing for the fans who kept the faith.
“Everything we did tonight and last week and we’re going to keep continuing to do is for our fans," Ware said, "because at the end of the day our fans will have our back no matter what and we need to support them and give them ladies and gentlemen a show."
The Herald-Leader’s Mark Story had a great account of Benny Snell’s performance vs. Vandy:
Kentucky had to be able to run the ball when Vandy knew it would not pass to win the game.
Largely thanks to Snell, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound battering ram out of Westerville, Ohio, the Cats were able to do just that.
On that fateful final drive, Snell ripped off runs of 7, 4 and 12 yards. After UK senior Jojo Kemp gained 14 yards on two carries but then lost 3, it was back to Snell for runs of 5, 7, 6, 0 and 3.
Having marched Kentucky down the field, Snell was furious that his final carry ended at the Vandy 10, a yard short of what would have been a game-clinching first down. Instead, the Cats settled for an Austin MacGinnis field goal to go up seven.
“Being so close, you want to score (a touchdown),” Snell said. “We wouldn’t have had that scare we had at the end (on Vandy’s final drive). We should have scored. I was mad at myself. I just didn’t like it.”
Pretty much everyone else affiliated with UK blue was thrilled with what Snell did at the end of the game.
“I really have a lot of confidence in him for his being a true freshman,” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said. “It’s amazing.”
Stoops said the physical running style Snell has displayed in the final quarter of all three of Kentucky’s victories this season is helping to change the personality of the UK program.
“Hard-nosed, great balance, tough runner, tough mindset, tough attitude, no B.S., that’s him,” Stoops said of Snell. “He’s here to work and win football games and get better. And I love that.”
The Wildcats will enjoy a much needed bye week before preparing for another must-win home game against Mississippi State on October 22. The Cats have not beaten the Bulldogs since 2008, but it does appear to be somewhat of a down year in Starkville. Mississippi State lost at home to Auburn Saturday 38-14 to move to 2-3 on the year (1-2 SEC), and will travel to BYU while the Cats are resting up this Saturday.