Take a deep breathe, exhale, and be grateful that Kentucky didn’t give it away this time. Kentucky doesn’t like to make it easy for themselves, and they let Vanderbilt back into the game, as they’ve done with every opponent they’ve been up on this season. Kentucky showed improvements on defense, and showed that their running game is just as dangerous as we thought. The passing game still needs work, and after this performance I’d say Drew Barker still has a shot at getting his job back if/when he returns this year. However, Stephen Johnson was mobile this week and racked up some good rushing numbers. The offense was stagnant in the second half, but a win is a win. Kentucky has work to do, but they’re still on track to being bowl eligible. Austin Peay, Mississippi State, and Missouri are must-wins, but the season can still be salvaged.
The running game showed up, again
Kentucky has a lethal trio of backs, and we saw all three of them putting in some good work this week. Benny Snell led the way 94 yards on 20 carries. I’ve been hesitant to label Snell as a star, because as a true freshman his game may level out at some point. However, he’s a staple of this run game now, and the more experience he gets, the better. Jojo Kemp helped the effort with 55 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown, and Boom Williams had 54 yards on 9 carries. Johnson even got in on the running game, racking up 55 yards on 10 carries.
The passing game was nonexistent
While Johnson got in on the running game, he looked bad throwing the ball. He was 10/24 for 49 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception. He averaged just 2 yards-per-attempt. Barker certainly isn’t the dual threat that Johnson is, but he’s shown some much better pocket passer abilities than what we saw today.
The defense is continuing to improve
Three weeks ago, I would’ve never thought Kentucky’s strength would be its defense. But this week the defense didn’t give up a single offensive touchdown. They showed up in the second half, unlike the offense, and managed to bend but not break in order to save the game in the final seconds. They held Kyle Shurmur to just 141 yards passing, and while Ralph Webb put up 100 yards, he was out late, so the Cats didn’t have to worry about the explosive back on the final drive. Stoops taking control of this defense has saved the team; they’re far better than they were at the start of the season. If Stoops can continue to lead this defense to have performances like they did today, it’ll go a long way in deciding if Kentucky makes a bowl game.
I don’t think they’re quite the worst defense in the history of football anymore.
Kentucky is really unlucky
The Wildcats had several unfortunate events happen that helped Vanderbilt work their way back into the game. First, Williams scampered up the middle on a run that looked like it’d gain a first down, and then he fumbled and Vanderbilt returned it for a touchdown. Then, the Cats broke through on a punt attempt, and with the help of a bad snap, had a chance to block it. However, instead of blocking the punt they just ran into the punter, who got a great punt off that put Kentucky back in their own territory. Finally, the Cats had a chance to capitalize on Vandy’s second muffed punt of the day, and bobbled it twice, dropping it right back in the Commodores’ hands. Oh, did I mention that Kentucky also committed three penalties on one play? That’s about how Kentucky football usually goes, as we know, but luckily Kentucky overcame the unfortunate events to get the win.
The offense didn’t show up in the second half
As is normally the theme for Kentucky this year, the offense struggled mightily in the second half. They mustered just 3 points, and they had 2 turnovers. The bright spot is that the drive that mustered 3 points was a long one, forcing Vandy to attempt a last-minute drive with no timeouts. The offense is going to have to show consistency if Kentucky wants to win against any other SEC team.
The Wildcats can still go bowling
If Kentucky took a loss this week, all hope would have been lost. It would take a miracle to make it to a bowl game, and the program would possibly be headed for massive staff turn over. With a win, the bowl game aspirations, and a few jobs, are safe for now. As I said earlier, they still have to beat their three weakest opponents, and if they can’t, it’ll take a massive upset. For now, the Cats are still on track to make this season an improvement over the last two.