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Must Win

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Kentucky and Vanderbilt played one of the ugliest football games that I’ve witnessed in person a year ago. That’s quite a feat if you think about it; I’ve seen and participated in some dreadful football games in my lifetime. Kentucky and Mark Stoops have to win on Saturday. Derek Mason and his Vanderbilt team have to win on Saturday. Something’s got to give.

Let’s take a look:

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Running Game/Defense/Special Teams

Vanderbilt won’t shock and awe. When it wins, it does so the old fashioned way by leaning on a veteran defense, physical running game, and solid special teams play. Mason and company nearly pulled off an upset against Florida but the Gators failed to cooperate and won the Music City Shootout 13-6.

Linebacker Zach Cunningham is the latest in a long list of elite middle linebackers that the Cats will face this season. Cunningham is heady, persistent, hard-hitting, and also the SEC’s leading tackler. He’ll consistently test and contest the UK offensive line. Star (Hybrid LB/DB) Oren Burks is the consummate student athlete and was a Cat killer in Nashville a year ago. Burks’ pick-6 was a dagger too far for the struggling Cats who lost the football game and a bowl game in that auspicious October afternoon.

Vandy features an experienced defense with a startling lineup comprised of 7 juniors, 3 seniors, and 1 sophomore. At times it may be beaten in one-on-one situations due to superior athletic ability but rarely will it break down structurally or self-inflict errors.

Ralph Webb is the SEC’s leading rusher: 118, 582, 5 TDs. Vanderbilt’s game-plan is no secret; Webb will carry the football at least 25 times on Saturday. 

Vanderbilt Depth Chart


How UK Beats Vanderbilt 


— Offensive ball security must be priority one on Saturday. Multiple turnovers against Vandy will lead to another humiliating loss. The Cats are dead last in the SEC’s turnover margin category by fumbling 12 times, losing 8.

— Consistent perimeter run game early will wear down the sizable and confrontational Vanderbilt defensive line. When watching the game on Saturday you may notice an unusual defensive formation. Derek Mason employs 2 down, defensive linemen with 2 standup defensive end/outside linebacker types along the line of scrimmage. The 2 defensive linemen are not always aligned at the same spot and at times will show an overload or unbalanced appearance to one side of the center.

— Power run game late has shown to be effective against the Commodores. This has occurred after opposing offenses have spread the ‘Dore D all over the field and utilized multiple formations which forced the front seven to chase plays.



— Slowing Ralph Webb will be a demanding task. Webb stresses opposing defense’s discipline and fortitude as he will consistently test Kentucky’s run-lane responsibilities. He will be the focus of Vanderbilt’s offensive game plan. Webb’s strengths are vision, cut-backs, and his innate ability to make initial defenders miss tackles.

— Play action pass awareness will have to remain a defensive concentration. This especially applies over the middle of the field where QB Kyle Shurmur will attack in order to challenge opposing safeties and linebackers. This is highly concerning. UK’s zone pass defense weaknesses lie between the hashes. Expect multiple tight ends to be targeted.

— Smart linebacker play with disciplined pursuit angles will be obligatory on Saturday. Crafty RB Ralph Webb is the league’s best at cutting the football back against the grain. UK’s linebackers are improved in this area but have at times been vulnerable against cut-back runs in the zone-stretch scheme. For Kentucky to win, Courtney Love will have to play the best game of his career.



— Sustained special team effort and execution will suffice. Wildcat special teams haven’t been discussed by the media for a reason. Coach Matt House’s unit has shown obvious improvement and new-found consistency.


If my count is right, Saturday will be the 4th edition of Mark Stoops’ most important game. An opening game loss vs. Southern Miss has painted the Wildcats into a bowl eligibility corner. No sugarcoating this one; Kentucky has to win on Saturday.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

20 Comments for Must Win

  1. secrick
    2:12 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

    Let Snell start with Boom and run like hell. I believe the defense is going to show up and we win this one by 14 but i’ll take a 1 point win. GO CATS, GO JOHNSON.

  2. Sentient Third Eye
    2:14 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

    Maybe we can drop aluminum foil all around Commonwealth in order to confuse Vandy’s QB, who throws the ball using bat-like radar after the freak accident that took his sight?

  3. kingave66
    2:23 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

    Wild guess, but is this the “biggest game of the Stoops era”??

    • Sentient Third Eye
      2:26 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      That’s what happens when you have no more margin for error.

    • secrick
      2:27 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      Yes, but so is the next 2 if he wins this one. Pressure cooker for sure.

  4. MoreheadCatFan
    2:31 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

    Good grief! Would Freddie or someone else at KSR please define “must win”? A must win for whom: the players, the coaching staff, the AD, the fans? What happens if UK DOESN’T win? Will the rest of the season be cancelled? Will the football program be disbanded? Will it go non-scholarship? Will Stoops be fired effectively immediately? For crying out loud, many of us fans are about as sick of hearing “must win” before any game deemed winnable by the “experts” as we are of the losses in such games with no significant consequences.

    • ClutchCargo
      3:18 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      Must win = game that must be won to fend off the lynch mob another week. Especially important as the cost of keeping the status quo creeps closer to the cost of making a coaching change.

  5. Rain1940
    2:40 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

    It is a “must win” to have a chance at a bowl game. It is a “must win” to cool the temperature of Stoops hot seat. It is a “must win” to keep the remaining fans interested. It is a “must win” to pump up the players confidence. How many more do you want? Any real football fan should know the implications of a “must win”.

    Freddie, you are at the top of journalists in explaining the nuances of a football game. Thanks for your expertise.

    • MoreheadCatFan
      3:24 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      Rain1940, I agree that Freddie does a great job with his analysis and insights. But he isn’t the only one throwing around the “must win” phrase ad nauseam. And the fact of the matter is, UK has already lost some “must win” games with no significant consequences.

      To say that the Cats must beat Vandy to have a chance at a bowl game is to admit they have absolutely no chance to upset anyone the rest of the season, which does nothing to “pump up the players confidence” either. A win over Vandy will do little or nothing to cool Stoops’s hot seat. The temperature will be cranked right back up for the next “must win” game. I do concede that remaining fans will lose interest with a loss to Vandy.

      My point is, if the Wildcats lose Saturday – barring a blowout in a half-empty stadium – chances are still slim that the UK brass announce that Stoops is fired, and the season will keep on trucking with the same sense of underachievement and frustration that we’re already feeling. In other words, nothing really changes.

    • Rain1940
      6:07 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      If UK doesn’t beat Vandy there is no chance for a bowl game baring a miracle and I don’t believe in miracle on a football field. In that regard, it is a “must win” game.

      As for firing Stoops, who the hell do the fans think Barnhart can get to coach UK? UK football is more of a career dead end than a career builder. No good coach with head coaching experience is going to accept the UK job, especially after seeing how the fans have turned on Stoops. I not defending the coaching staff because I think they had made some bone head decisions. However, they have improved the level of recruit and that is the only way to pull this program out of the basement. You can’t do that in a few years in football. UK fans measure everything by basketball and that is comparing apples to oranges.

      It doesn’t matter to me whether UK fires or keeps Stoops and his staff but if they are fired UK can look for 4-5 more years of losing. I don’t care who is hired. I think it takes 6-7 years of good recruiting to turn a football program around IF you can get good recruits. Stoops and his staff do a good job of recruiting when you consider the competition. The fans need to get off their the coaches back and let them work because not a one of use could do as well.

  6. Big Blue Shawn
    2:46 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

    I did my part. Set my tickets on fire. No selling or giving away. Want to see an empty stadium. Maybe Mitch will eventually wake up and get a clue.

    • ClutchCargo
      3:19 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      Calling BS that you even had tickets to burn.

    • Big Blue Shawn
      3:24 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      Luckily, I don’t need to defend my fandom to a boob like you.

    • RealCatsFan
      5:09 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      Hmmm, “I don’t need to defend my fandom” kind of sounds like Trump refusing to release his tax returns because “it’s none of our business”. 😀

    • theWilkman
      5:17 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      I hate to break it to you but burning your tickets shows your “fandom” clearly enough.

    • Big Blue Shawn
      6:17 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

      You sheep are the same people who probably blindly cheered Tubby and Billy G during their reigns of terror. You are part of the problem.

    • satcheluk
      2:24 am October 7, 2016 Permalink

      Your fan card has been revoked. Go to the back of the line.

  7. jaws2
    2:55 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

    Good write up Freddie. The Cats defense will have to play at least as good as the AL game to even entertain winning Saturday. If we do not stay in the proper lanes or the DE’s over pursue, we are doomed. Cut-backs have hurt this team consistently all year. I sure hope that changes Saturday.

  8. secrick
    3:07 pm October 6, 2016 Permalink

    Every win in college football is a must win for different reasons, look at the cards every game is a must win, one more loss and no chance to win the title, same for lot of teams. So a must win means different things for every one. I agree with RAIN1940, heck must wins are exciting .

  9. wildcats12
    10:44 am October 7, 2016 Permalink

    Vandy and UK… two teams in a race to the bottom of the SEC since the 1960’s.