The Kentucky Wildcats rolled in Music City on Saturday as the rushing game hit all the right notes in a 38-14 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Now just one win away from bowl eligibility, the offense racked up 529 yards in total offense, including 402 yards on the ground as running backs Chris Rodriguez, Kavosiey Smoke and AJ Rose put the Wildcats back in the win column. Rodriguez had a breakout game, running for 129 yards on 15 carries. Smoke finished with 95 yards, while Rose added 67 yards on four carries.
Once again, Quarterback Lynn Bowden was electric out of the pocket with 214 total yards that included 110 rushing on 17 carries and signs of a resurrected passing attack with 104 yards and a touchdown.
Kentucky, 5-5 overall (3-5 in the SEC) plays host to UT-Martin next week with a chance to lock up a bowl appearance for the fourth consecutive year.
After the game, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops meet with the media to discuss the victory courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics.
MARK STOOPS: Mark Stoops. Really proud of our team top to bottom. Proud of our coaches and proud of our team to bounce back. We faced some adversity last week, tough game. Sometimes that can linger. It did not this week, as you can tell. Our team was very prepared, very motivated and played extremely hard once again. They have been doing that. As I mentioned, I don’t know, go way back, partly through, halfway through the year or after the start, I just have been very proud of the team and their identity. And playing extremely hard and being prepared and controlling the things they can control, really responded well tonight. We faced adversity early. It’s one of those deals where you’re frustrated, you feel like you’re in complete control, but they get a strip, fumble, touchdown and that can flip momentum very easily. And our team didn’t flinch, went right back out there and methodically took care of business. And that’s the way we operate when we’re at our best and it was a total team effort tonight, so very proud of the group.
Q. That moment when you go down 14-3, what are you thinking was most critical in that flipping, the momentum not getting flipped there?
MARK STOOPS: I think just the confidence to know that we were in good control and have to go right back at it. I think that it would be easy to, for some people to panic or the guys to panic if they didn’t have confidence in what we were going to do. Because let’s face it, we are methodical right now and there’s not a ton of explosive plays. Now we created some, and we created some big yardage again and controlled the clock. However when you go down 14-3, if you’re not a team that has confidence in what we’re doing, you could flinch right there, because you know points have been hard. But that wasn’t the case, so we just kind of went back out there, there was plenty of time, and I think it was good and we were relatively clean. If I’m not mistaken, there wasn’t another turnover, is that right, the rest of the game. So that was a big, that’s a big piece of it right there.
Q. You’ve been talking about not flinching for years. How much of that is just an ingrained part of the culture with your team?
MARK STOOPS: I think, I hope that that’s the way they are. We talk about it, we coach it, our coaches -- but our players, it comes from preparation. You’re going to have confidence if you prepare the right way. And as I’ve said many times, we all know important how important the outcomes are, and we all hang on to those plays that determine a win and a loss sometimes in very tight games. And those are really hard, on fans, on people, you know, and everybody in the organization.
However, it’s about us and our preparation as a team and their identity and the way they’re doing things, for me. You’re going to win, you’re going to lose. As I mentioned to the team, life is that way, this game is that way. You’re going to go through some tough losses, and you’re going to -- it’s brutal. But we cannot be defeated in our mentality. And I like that about this group.
Q. How has Kavosiey grown to be able to do what they did today, him and Chris?
MARK STOOPS: I noticed it today, a little bit of growth, you probably did too. Just some of the runs they made today, I hadn’t necessarily always seen. You’ve seen flashes, you’ve seen them do some really good things. But today I saw a couple runs they kind of took over. And they were pretty determined tough runs. Then also, they showed some really athletic plays. I thought Kavosiey, the one toss that he got and he showed speed and then he showed agility and balance where he cut it up and turned it into a critical first down early. So they -- and then Chris with the couple runs where he ran so physical. The third down run, I think, maybe -- he converted a first down. I’m not sure if it was third down, but he put his shoulder down and showed balance and created that first down. I mean, those are some tough yards and some tough runs, so I’m really proud of him.
Q. I think completing some passes probably opened up things for them. How refreshing is, how nice was it to see Lynn be able to run the two-minute offense right before half?
MARK STOOPS: That was, that was, it was fun to see. It was good. It was critical for us to work on that and to do that and to convert on a passing down when it was an obvious passing down. It was a big play, that momentum. You talk about that middle 8 again, you talk about last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half, and boy, that really dictated the game for us today, getting that score right before half, and then setting the tone and momentum in the second half with taking the opening drive and getting a touchdown as well.
Q. In a big picture sense, how remarkable is what Lynn has done?
MARK STOOPS: It really is. You have to give him the credit that he deserves. You’re right, because we’re all sitting here watching this unfold through this season and we kind of get tired of talking about it and y’all may get tired of writing about it, but you really have to give him some, the credit he deserves because it’s not easy doing what he’s doing. And it’s not just some athlete back there, you know, just making plays. He’s doing some amazing things. It really is. And, again, it comes to really proud of Coach Grant, Coach Henshaw, all of our coaches, the position they’re putting him in, him understanding it. And then the reads and the things that he’s doing, I mean, he’s executing it. And then he has that toughness too. You put him back there and he makes people miss, but he also lowers his shoulders and runs over people when he has to. So just, you put it all together and it’s pretty remarkable some of the things he’s doing right now.
Q. Some of the people that were able to get on field today that haven’t played a lot, how valuable is that?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, got a little sloppy there at the end. There was, we got a lot of guys in. It got a little hairy there. We -- I kind of gambled and put them in there earlier than probably normal. Because if they score there in the fourth quarter, you cut it to -- if they get the first down, they cut it to a two-possession game there with, what, maybe nine minutes or something, eight minutes, you put a little, they put a little pressure on there. But the defense got the stop, which was good, because I wanted to get those guys some quality reps. And offensively the same thing, certainly at quarterback. That’s why we were throwing it a little bit, getting Sawyer, getting the dust off him and letting him get some game reps. Normally, you know I would be wanting to run the clock and get out of there. I have such great respect for Coach Mason and this program, so I would have liked to have got out of there, but we needed the snaps, our team needed it. So Sawyer needed to make some throws.
And then it was really important to get Walker in there. And that’s been on my mind to get him in the game. So really proud of him and just what he’s done and what he’s meant to this program. And so I wanted to give him a few throws and get him out there, get him some snaps and just see what he can do. He deserves it. So that was good to see.
Q. What does it do for team morale when you get all those guys in there? It seemed like everyone was really excited on defense and offense out there.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s really important. Because that’s a what, you know, this game, through the season, it’s so difficult, as I’ve mentioned a couple times, you take some, you take these young people, you take their hope away and it’s brutally hard. Some of these guys are just practicing and we talk about it and Jason always gives me some great tips and pointers. But you keep on sewing your seeds, keep on doing what you’re supposed to do, and eventually you’re going to collect on that. And generally it’s much later than you want it to be. But generally if you keep on doing that it’s going to be more than you want it to be. So that’s hard to see for young people. And so that morale is real important and it’s important to get them in some games and keep their hope up. And that’s why through some tough losses it’s easy to cave. It’s easy to give in. But our team hasn’t done that and we’re creating a good identity and we’re not perfect, but I like the mentality of this team.
Q. What’s it like, you’re on defense on third down on the road, but the crowd’s getting loud.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it felt good. It’s always good. Thank you to the fans that showed up. As I mentioned throughout the week, we hear you on the road. It was a great feeling tonight to see a lot of blue up there and to hear them. And they made a difference and our players really enjoyed it.
Q. How do you feel about your defensive depth at this point? Jamon was your top tackle guy today. How much is that helping you?
MARK STOOPS: It really helps us. And Jamon needed those reps and he needed some reps when the pressure was on. And we got to continue to do that with him because he’s an athletic guy and he’s got great size and length. There’s a lot of little things he’s still got to put together but that will come with some reps and keep on playing. But I feel good about our depth, I really do. We go fairly deep up front and we really feel like we have some talented backers coming up. Inside, we got to keep on creating some depth. You saw Bembry playing a little bit inside. If we could get him coming along there that would really help us, bode well for the future. Because outside and across the front, and especially if we get Phil a sixth year, you got some good depth coming up and putting guys that are playing a lots of snaps.
Q. The offensive line, I know they like to run block. But still when the other team knows you’re probably going to run, how much have they embraced that had challenge of we’re going to be a grind it out, methodical team?
MARK STOOPS: They always do. That’s where some of that, we were looking tonight, and some of the runs we hits on third down, you guys can see that where it helps you because certain pressures and things that were coming, we were looking at, and the offensive coaches were checking that from the sideline, but the still got to collect it all up and block it. But we split them for some huge plays tonight and they always embrace that and --
Q. Is that a job that Coach Schlarman has done?
MARK STOOPS: Just remarkable. He really is. John is just amazing, to be honest with you. He had some treatment this week and then he had to go back for another little procedure. I don’t want to get too invasive in his business. But he doesn’t want any attention. But he has to drive his own car down here or Friday or have somebody drive him down here on Friday after another procedure and he shows up at practice. We thought he was going to miss it, but sure enough, we got here and he pops in there and got the smile on his face like nothing’s going on and goes about his business. And it’s a really remarkable story what he’s going through and the job that he’s doing. And it can’t help -- it can’t do anything but help, I would imagine, with these players and inspire these players to see what he’s going through. And so they can’t feel sorry for themselves, that’s for sure. And John’s done a great job and so has the O-line.
Q. Obviously last year you had an elite defense, but in some ways is this year almost as rewarding with everything you lost on that side of the ball and how well they have been playing?
MARK STOOPS: It is, it definitely is. Very pleased, just gave all those defensive coaches a big hug and a thanks because I think they’re doing a really great job with some inexperienced guys. But as I mentioned, early, I mean we were going to go through some issues, I mean that just happens. You have to make some mistakes to get the growth and experience, but we have talent and it’s getting better and better. Very pleased, because there’s a lot of players out there that are going to be playing the next couple years. So I like to see that and appreciate the work that those guys are doing.
Q. You guys dominated third down and red zone. Eight of 11, four of four inside the 20. I know last week that was something that this season you mentioned that guys have got to punch it in?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, you knew that coming off last week, that was the story of the game. We needed to make some critical plays in critical moments and this week we did. Again, proud of the coaches and players and having a mindset to get that done.
Q. How do you keep AJ from getting discouraged?
MARK STOOPS: He’ll be fine, he’ll be fine. He’ll be all right. He’s just, you know, you have to be able to handle that type of adversity and he’ll be back in there next week and he’ll be the starting running back and taking the snap on the first play of the game when we’re in there offensively and he needs to just get right back at it and we have a lot of confidence in him and he’ll be alright.
Now, here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Information
- Kentucky is 5-5, 3-5 in the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt is 2-8, 1-6 in the league.
- Kentucky leads the series, 46-42-4, and has won four in a row.
- Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats return home Saturday, Nov. 23, vs. UT Martin. Game time is 3:30 p.m. and it will be televised on the SEC Network.
- This was Mark Stoops’ 41st victory at Kentucky, tying him with Blanton Collier and Jerry Claiborne for third place on the UK career wins list.
- Kentucky has a 16-16 SEC record over the past four seasons. It is the first time since 1953-56 that the Wildcats have won at least half of their conference games over a four-year stretch.
- Kentucky has won at least one SEC road game for five straight seasons, tying the school record. UK also won at least one SEC road game from 2005-09 under Coach Rich Brooks.
- The 24-point margin of victory is UK’s largest in an SEC road game since a 56-30 win at Vanderbilt in 2001.
- Kentucky has allowed 34 points or less in 24 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation.
- 24 straight games at 34 points or less is the longest for Kentucky since a 45-game streak from 1976-80.
- Kentucky had a season-high 528 yards total offense, best since compiling 601 at Louisville last season.
- Kentucky had 401 rushing yards, most since rushing for 443 at Tennessee in 2016.
- Kentucky had 30 first downs, most since getting 30 vs. Mississippi State in 2015.
- Kentucky allowed 198 yards, the fifth consecutive SEC game that UK has limited the opponent to 305 or fewer yards.
- It is the first time since 1977 that UK has held five straight SEC opponents to 305 yards or fewer.
- It is the fewest offensive yards allowed since limiting Vanderbilt to 139 yards in 2014.
- Kentucky did not give up a touchdown pass. UK entered the game tied for third among FBS teams with the fewest touchdown passes allowed, six.
- Vanderbilt’s longest pass play was 22 yards. UK entered the game tied for third among FBS teams of fewest pass plays of 40 yards allowed (one this season).
- UK scored on the opening drive – a 32-yard field goal by Chance Poore – the second straight game that the Wildcats scored on their first possession.
- Beginning with UK’s third possession, the Wildcats had five consecutive touchdown drives.
- UK’s game captains: OG Logan Stenberg, LB Kash Daniel, LB Josh Paschal and athlete Lynn Bowden Jr.
- Junior athlete Lynn Bowden Jr. rushed 17 times for 110 yards and one touchdown. He completed 8 of 10 passes for a career-high 104 yards and one touchdown.
- This was his fourth 100-yard rushing game, tying Mike Fanuzzi for the most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback in school history.
- Redshirt freshman running back Chris Rodriguez rushed 15 times for a career-high 229 yards and one touchdown.
- Redshirt freshman running back Kavosiey Smoke ran 15 times for a career-high 95 yards.
- On a 3rd-and-26 play in the third quarter, he caught a screen pass and bulled his way 28 yards for a first down, keeping a touchdown drive alive.
- Junior running back A.J. Rose rushed four times for 67 yards.
- Rose has 1,098 career yards, moving up to 33rd place on the UK rushing list.
- Junior wide receiver Josh Ali caught three passes for 27 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown catch that is his second TD of the season.
- Sophomore wide receiver Clevan Thomas caught two passes for 45 yards, including a 40-yarder that ties the longest reception of his career.
- Sophomore linebacker Jamin Davis led the Wildcats with a career-high six tackles. He added a quarterback hurry.
- Sophomore safety Yusuf Corker snagged his first career interception in the third quarter, setting up a UK touchdown drive.