Mark Stoops and his Kentucky Wildcats got back on track last night with a 34-17 road win against Vanderbilt. After a three-game losing streak, playing the Commodores was a great way for the Wildcats to hopefully start to end the season on a high note.
With their conference slate now over, Kentucky finished 5-3 with just their second winning record in conference play since 1977 and have two games left on the schedule to prepare for bowl season.
Here’s some of the risers and fallers from the much-needed victory last night.
Chris Rodriguez: After a rough stretch running the ball during the three game losing streak, Chris Rodriguez got back to the bowling ball play we’re used to seeing. He finished with his most yards (114) and first touchdown since Kentucky played LSU. He broke off for his second-longest rush of the SEC season as well. With two games to go, getting Rodriguez going again was a must, and he took a positive step forward in Nashville.
Wan’Dale Robinson: No one has done more for themselves this season in Lexington than Wan’Dale Robinson. With six catches for 75 yards and his seventh touchdown of the year, it was what we’ve come to expect out of Will Levis’ favorite target. We have at least three more games to enjoy one of the better UK receivers we’ve seen in years before he very likely leaves for the NFL Draft.
JuTahn McClain: With Kavosiey Smoke banged up and limited to just one carry on the night, JuTahn McClain got a career-high 10 carries and produced 69 yards with them. The second-year back showed a nice blend of burst, vision and power as he plowed through Vandy defenders. The future of Kentucky’s backfield remains in a good hands.
Liam Coen: With Vanderbilt being the worst team in the SEC, it was a nice ‘pick-me-up’ game after the skid UK came in on. It gave multiple players a chance to get some confidence back and play well, including Levis, Josh Ali, JuTahn McClain and Izayah Cummings, while Liam Coen called a masterful first half that put the game away early. It has to make Coen feel better about his group after the offense had its ups and downs over the last month.
Josh Paschal: Paschal continued the best season of his UK career with seven tackles (five assisted, two solo) along with his first two sacks of the season. Paschal has pushed himself to the front of UK’s defense when it comes to the NFL discussion, and it’ll be interesting to see how he wraps up his career down the stretch with these last three.
Justin Rogers: Rogers had his best game as a Wildcat in Nashville. He’s been starting since the LSU game and ended the conference season with four tackles (three solo, one assisted) and a sack. Rogers had Marquan McCall, who made his return to the defensive line last night, pumping his fist and out on the field in celebration. Rogers has a chance to solidify himself in that spot moving forward with a strong end to his sophomore campaign.
Jalen Geiger: With Kentucky’s defense struggling mightily in recent weeks, especially at safety, Mark Stoops decided to shake up the starting lineup, which included Jalen Geiger making his first career start at safety. Geiger rewarded the move with a pick-six in the second quarter to put Kentucky up 21-3. The third-year DB certainly earned a second-straight start next week when Kentucky hosts New Mexico State.
Brad White: After giving up 30+ and an average of 35.3 over the losing streak, it’s hard to knock a performance where you held a team to 17. Still, based on Vanderbilt’s numbers, you’d have liked to see a truly dominant performance on that side of the ball. Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi State held the Commodores to a combined six points over three games. The Wildcats got the win, and they answered some of the questions that have come their way, but the defense didn’t answer all the questions it needed to against a struggling program like Vanderbilt.
Kentucky vs. Backup QBs: Far too often under Mark Stoops, Kentucky’s defense has looked great but quickly came undone once the opposing team’s backup QB came in. That continued in Nashville, as Kentucky’s defense was dominant vs. Vandy starter Ken Seals. But when Mike Wright came in, Vandy marched right down the field twice for touchdown passes from Wright. While the Kentucky offense did let up a bit, those long drives Wright orchestrated ate up much of the second-half clock, as the Dores actually won the time of possession battle 30:14-29:46.