Anatomy of a loss: How Kentucky blew a hole in its foot against Vanderbilt
A season once full of hope is now on the verge of mediocrity, even by Kentucky standards. There are very few games that ‘Cats fans looked at in the beginning of the season and figured the outcome was already decided in favor of the Blue and White, and last Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt was one of them. Perhaps the close loss to Eastern Kentucky should have been a reminder that in college football nothing is a sure thing.
With basketball season now in full swing, coach Mark Stoops will have to rally his troops and win the final two games of the season to keep the attention of fans. One more loss would mean the Wildcats will not be heading to a bowl game for yet another year. The defense played one of its better games of the year in the 21-17 loss, so how did UK come up short? There are three main reasons:
1.) Vanderbilt’s calling card this season has been its defense. It kept them in the game versus Florida and got them a victory against Missouri. The same defense was the difference in Saturday’s victory over Kentucky. Two key goal-line stands made all the difference in the final outcome. The ‘Cats were unable to punch it in when they needed it the most. Just one score out of those two possessions would have made the difference between a win and a loss.
2.) I am of the camp that believes Stoops is the right man for the job in Lexington. He has performed an incredible overhaul of what was previously a bleak roster in just three years. For better or for worse, he has increased the expectations around the program. One fixable area where his staff has appeared to struggle this season is with structure and organization on the sidelines during games. Linebacker Khalid Henderson, one of several defensive players who stepped up in a big way on Saturday, used the word “pandemonium” to describe what is currently going on with the team. Coach Stoops, rather than owning up to the visible disorganization on some plays, has been short in response to questions pertaining to the matter.
3.) A defensive touchdown is the greatest momentum destroyer/booster in football. It can completely take the air out of the tires of an offense, even if it had been firing on all cylinders beforehand. As Kentucky’s losing skid has grown, so has the contingency calling for redshirt freshman Drew Barker to replace Patrick Towles at quarterback. Towles has shown promise and an ability to lead well-executed drives, but with losses comes the desire for change. Barker, who had played sparingly up until Saturday’s game, had a pass picked off and returned 30 yards for a score by Oren Burks. The play gave Vanderbilt a lead they would not relinquish the remainder of the way. Towles similarly cost the team a touchdown when he had an end zone fade pass picked off, also by Burks. The play did not lead directly to points for Vandy, but it kept what would have been a difference-making score off the board.
So it’s back to the drawing board for Stoops and company with a game against lowly Charlotte to iron out the kinks in the game play before they battle arch-rival Louisville for possible bowl-eligibility. It’s no secret that a team performs better with stability at the quarterback position, so look for the team to pick one guy and stick with him the remainder of the way. The Louisville game already takes on the feel of doomsday in the state, but the added stakes of postseason play should make things even more interesting.