Sitting in a quiet Vandy press box, it’s hard to even know where to begin going over what just happened. Kentucky had a chance to essentially clinch bowl eligibility in Nashville today. While Vanderbilt’s defense is solid, their offense — coming in to tonight — was not. On the first drive, it actually looked like the Cats could pull it off, Patrick Towles moving the offense efficiently down the field; however, crucial drops by Ryan Timmons and Garrett Johnson turned what should have been seven into three. That was simply foreshadowing for the rest of the night.
The same mistakes that have haunted Kentucky over the past month were on full display. The defense gave the offense some opportunities to score, but it was all for naught. On first and goal, Kentucky squandered four straight opportunities to score. On the Cats’ next drive, Boom Williams fumbled the ball on UK’s four-yard line, setting up Vanderbilt for their first touchdown in a first quarter in eleven games. It just got worse from there. A few series later, Towles threw an interception in the end zone on first and goal. That would be his last play of the half.
For one series, Drew Barker was the hero
Drew Barker finally got his shot with 12:18 left in the second quarter. For two minutes, everything worked. Barker aired it out on his first throw, a beautiful 42-yard bomb to Jeff Badet, and on the next play, Dorian Baker didn’t drop an 8-yard pass. Boom Williams almost broke loose, but tripped, and, in a true sign of a miracle in the making, Ryan Timmons caught a seven-yard pass in the end zone, his first touchdown of the season.
For two minutes, Kentucky was winning. For two minutes, there was hope. For two minutes, Drew Barker was the answer.
…and then came the Pick Six.
In a true testament to Kentucky football, Barker threw a pick six on his next drive. Seriously, could the football gods have scripted it any better? Vandy took a 14-10 lead, Kentucky responsible for both of their touchdowns.
On arguably the most questionable play of the game, Kentucky went for it on 4th down at the 49-yard line, Barker firing it down the field incomplete. With only a minute and a half left in the game, why not just punt it and let your defense work? It was a ballsy call that Stoops took blame for after the game, another “poor decision.” Shannon Dawson summed it up with another classic line that will make you roll your eyes.
“We decided to take a shot and took a shot,” Dawson said. “Hindsight is 20-20.”
From there, Vandy’s offense came to life (as only struggling offenses do against Kentucky) and they scored again, Caleb Scott trotting into the end zone untouched on a trick play:
Patrick took back over in the third quarter
Drew started the second half and after a three and out, the coaches decided to go back to Patrick. Boom Williams gave Kentucky a jolt of life with a 66-yard run to the seven-yard line, setting up JoJo Kemp to punch it in to make the score 21-16. Instead of going for two to keep Kentucky within a field goal, Stoops elected to kick the extra point, telling reporters afterwards he felt it was too early to resort to such measures. Another questionable call that will keep people talking this week.
Regardless, Kentucky still had chances, with a full quarter left to make something happen. After a stupid delay of game penalty in which Jordan Swindle ran back on the field too late, Austin MacGinnis missed a 37-yard field goal. From there, the offense stalled, going three and out on its next two drives. Vandy ran down the clock, but Kentucky got the ball left with ten seconds left for a Hail Mary. Instead, Patrick Towles got sacked.
Why go back to Patrick?
That’s a question many in the Big Blue Nation are asking right now. Towles finished 10-26 for 67 yards and one interception. Barker finished 5-8 for 60 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Both quarterbacks had their moments. Despite the nasty pick six, Drew performed admirably and the offense looked confident behind him; however, Shannon Dawson said the staff wanted to stick with the hot hand and Stoops wanted Towles’ experience late in the game. Whatever the reason, the quarterback battle is bigger than ever and will dominate headlines for the next two games, a nightmare for a team seeking stability and leadership.
Two must-win games remain…
…and for a team that currently excels at losing, that’s terrifying. Barring a total collapse — which, after tonight, who knows — Kentucky should beat Charlotte on Saturday. From there, the script becomes very familiar. Beat Louisville, go to a bowl. The Cats are currently plummeting just like they were this time last season, except this go around, fans will not be so willing to accept a loss.
As CJ Johnson so eloquently put it when asked about UK squandering so many opportunities, “It’s like f***, I don’t know what else to do.”