Kentucky football: Grading the Wildcats’ victory over Vandy
Kentucky’s 38-14 win over Vanderbilt was the Wildcats’ most lopsided SEC win since 2001. Not only was the victory the team’s fifth of the year, with FCS’ UT-Martin upcoming, but it was the kind of dominant performance rarely seen by a Kentucky offense, particularly one on its fourth-string QB. Now it’s time to break down the pros and cons of UK’s victory.
What I liked
The Lynn Bowden show
Kentucky’s do-everything playmaker at quarterback continued to run the football well, gaining 110 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Perhaps more impressively, Bowden was 8-for-10 passing for 104 yards and a touchdown. If Bowden doesn’t win the Paul Hornung Award for the most versatile player in college football, the voters weren’t paying attention.
The three-headed running back
Kentucky’s ground game went to a by-committee approach after junior A.J. Rose was benched following a fumble that led to an early scoop-and-score touchdown for Vandy. Rose had otherwise played well, totaling 67 yards on four carries. But off the bench, UK leaned on freshmen Chris Rodriguez (129 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Kavosiey Smoke (95 yards, 1 touchdown). The three backs combined for 34 carries for 291 yards. Smoke also added a 28-yard reception on a third-and-26 screen pass. The three-headed running back had a heck of an afternoon.
Kentucky’s offensive line
When your offense gains 528 yards in a conference game, the big men in the trenches have done some work. This is even more true with an offense as limited as Kentucky’s. Aside from Rose’s fumble, UK did not have an empty possession until the fourth quarter and didn’t punt until just more than a minute remained. UK’s running backs could have driven a car through some of the holes that the offensive line opened, and that bodes well for everyone involved.
Aside from a sharp first-quarter drive for Vandy’s first touchdown, the UK defense gave up basically nothing all afternoon. Vandy finished with 198 total yards of offense, and only three possessions yielded more than 20 yards. Kentucky’s defense simply played solid assignment football and kept the Commodores from being a factor after the first quarter.
The all-but-certain continuation of the bowl streak
Assuming the sky doesn’t fall on next week’s game against UT-Martin (and even if it does, the Wildcats would also have to lose the following week against Louisville), Kentucky will be bowl-eligible for a fourth consecutive year, which would be the second-longest streak in the program’s history. Yes, a lower-tier bowl game is ho-hum at many schools. But given Kentucky’s historic problems and the QB health problems the Wildcats have faced, keeping the streak going will pay major dividends on the practice field and in recruiting.
What I didn’t like
Chance Poore converted all of his kicks against Vandy, but some of the results were so aesthetically unpleasant that backup Matt Ruffolo was warming up on the sideline. Mark Stoops can’t have any comfort in his kicking game, and that’s a difficult thing for a team with a thin margin for error.
Kentucky racked up 11 penalties for 91 yards. Many came on offense and placed the Kentucky attack behind the chains, which could be a problem against a more talented opponent.
A Square problem
Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square left the game early with a shoulder injury. While the immediate suggestion was that Square likely sustained a stinger and could be available again soon, the Wildcats would rather not lose one of their top tacklers and defensive standouts, even briefly.