The Kentucky Wildcats broke a three-game losing streak Saturday night in Nashville, winning for the first time since October 9th with a convincing 34-17 triumph over Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats used a balanced offensive attack to score 31 first-half points that included a pair of touchdown passes from Will Levis, an interception return by Jalen Geiger, a scoring run from Chris Rodriguez and a 25-yard field goal by Matt Ruffalo.
If you missed the live action, here are the four things you need to know from Kentucky’s final SEC game of the season.
A Potent Offense
Kentucky started strong, scoring on its opening drive for the sixth time in 10 games after Levis connected with Wan’Dale Robinson on a 6-yard pass to cap a 10-play drive that covered 85 yards. On the drive, Rodriguez had 32 yards on five carries and Robinson had three catches for 33 yards as Kentucky set the tone early, scoring on its first four drives.
Levis started the game 7-for-7 for 118 yards as Kentucky did not face its first third-down play until the 4:38 mark in the second quarter that resulted in the Ruffalo field goal.
A few milestones on Saturday to note as Rodriguez joined the 1000-yard club for rushing yards in a season, Levis became the first UK quarterback since Stephen Johnson to throw for 2,000 yards in a season, and Robinson moved up to No. 6 for most catches in a season.
Rodriguez was back to his old self on Saturday, grinding out tough yards behind the Big Blue Wall. He gave the offensive an early lift with 90 rushing yards on 10 carries and a touchdown in the first half. He finished with his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Robinson, considered one of the top nation’s top receivers, entered Saturday’s game as the second-best receiver in the SEC with 71 catches for 811 yards and six touchdowns. He’s on pace to become the first receiver since Randall Cobb (2010) to gather 1000-yards in a season and is also chasing the single season reception record of 90 catches set by James Whalen in 1999. Against Vanderbilt, Robinson had five catches for 76 yards to get past the 900-yard mark.
Changes in the Secondary
After struggling in the secondary the past few weeks, the coaching staff made some changes against Vandy with sophomore defensive back Jalen Geiger earning his first career start with safety Vito Tisdale also cracking the starting lineup.
Those moves paid off big in the second quarter when Tisdale broke loose to apply pressure on Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals who threw a short pass up for grabs into the hands of Geiger who scored easily for the pick six to give the Wildcats a 21-3 lead in the second quarter. Geiger’s 31-yard return was just Kentucky’s fourth interception of the season after leading the SEC in that category a year ago.
Vanderbilt’s first offensive touchdown came on a 72-yard drive led by backup quarterback Mike Wright that resulted in back-to-back pass plays for a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the lead to 31-11. Vandy added another score late in the fourth quarter.
The defense still has some work to do, but the return of Marquan “Bully” McCall on Saturday provides some immediate help up front to close out the year.
Magic Number is 10
Kentucky, now 7-3, has a legitimate shot at securing just the fourth 10-win season in school history if it can run the table against New Mexico State and Louisville to set up a chance to reach double figures with a bowl game victory.
The Wildcats last won 10 games in 2018 with a season-ending victory in the Citrus Bowl. Kentucky also won 10 games in 1977 and finished 11-1 during the 1950 season. Getting to 10-wins would put Mark Stoops in a class by himself as the only head coach to win 10 games twice during any coaching tenure.
Kentucky hosts New Mexico State next week at Kroger Field for Senior Day before making the short trip to play rival Louisville on November 27th.