In Music City, Kentucky failed to accept the gold-and-black bow-tied gift also known as an SEC road win. No matter how hospitable Coach Mason’s team was, the visitors just failed open the package. More on that gift later.
One team had a simple offensive game plan and stuck to it through four quarters. The other team was UK. Offensively, Vanderbilt’s intent was to run the football, manage the clock, and take play action passing shots when available. The Wildcats…who knows?
Given the Commodore’s defensive status, ease was not expected. However, the Cats had more success than you might think. Vandy was giving up 113 rush yards per game. UK ran for 225. VU was allowing 316 yards per game, the Cats managed 352. Nice digits, but with one major problem. There was no rhyme or reason in the UK offensive game plan that did produced positive yet sporadic yards. That is, unless turnovers were an aspiration. VU scored 14 points off turnovers. You’re welcome.
When the Cats had the football, on too many occasions 2nd and 10+ was flashing on the scoreboard. Against a team with a 25% third down conversion ratio, one would think that positive first down yardage of any nature would have been the rational choice. Not so on Saturday. Most drives started with a fade route or ill-attempted downfield shot followed by a draw. Third and forever and punts ensued. But Kentucky had its opportunities.
Kentucky’s opening drive should have been an indication of the inevitable. Not one, but two dropped touchdown passes forced the Cats to settle for a field goal. On two occasions, UK had the ball first and goal on the precipice of breaking the game wide open. Its first futile attempt can be best described as chaotic. What was the hurry? The huddle appeared haggard and stressed. Four plays including a pass to nobody equaled zero points and Uncle Mo dawning a Commodore hat.
The second trip inside the ten-yard line was equally as perplexing. 1st and goal on the 3, the Cats went with trend and passed on first down. Jeff Badet was just outside or inside if you see the replay, the white line following the catch. Incomplete, but not a horrific play. What followed led to many a visor and hat toss in the concrete edifice known as Vanderbilt Stadium. On second down, Patrick Towles threw a short and errant fade route to Dorian Baker. With most of the 25,000 folks in the stands expecting the play, Vanderbilt reacted accordingly. The pass into double coverage was intercepted in the end zone. Third wasted opportunity if you’re keeping score at home.
Keeping to script, late in the first half the Cats were faced with a 4th and 1 near midfield. Mark Stoops decided to go for it, attempt failed. With 1:15 left in the first half, an uncovered Caleb Scott caught a perfectly spiraled pass from Shurmer for a touchdown. Baffling. Given UK’s anemic short yardage offense, a punt would have been the right call to stick the equally feeble Vanderbilt offense deep in its own territory. Going to the half trailing 14-10 quickly turned into 21-10 repetitive nightmare scenario.
The game did see Drew Barker lead an impressive touchdown drive. Following a scoring strike to Ryan Timmons, the Twitter machine exploded, saying that the Drew Barker era had started, and why did it take so long? Next possession, welcome to the SEC. Vanderbilt Pick 6.
Even as badly and as ugly as the Cat had played, Vanderbilt again tried to hand over the early Christmas gift but the Cats just were not in the holiday spirit. Cats had three chances in the fourth quarter but failed in all. While setting up for a field goal to cut into the Vandy lead, senior Jordan Swindle calmly jogged off the field instead of lining up for the kick. Delay of game Kentucky. Austin MacGinnis missed the FG.
Boom Williams played through injury. The red zone fumble will haunt, but Boom rushed for 115 net yards on 13 carries. Net yards, lost yardage added up as well. JoJo Kemp ran for 53 yards on 8 carries. That’s the frustrating part; UK had success running the football but would go away from the ground and go to the air which had little accomplishment. Drew Barker did go 5-8 and a TD, Patrick Towles finished the night 10-26 for 67 yards. Dropped passes. I swear, if I typed those words once, I’ve done so a thousand times.
Special teams continue to haunt. Including the missed FG, penalties on returns were topped by a blocked punt that eventually sealed the deal. In all the malevolence, there were positives.
Defense played well. Other than the uncovered receiver for six, DJ Eliot’s unit held Vandy to 301 total yards. Ok, I know. The Vandy offense ranked 127th/128 in college football, but I have to highlight at least one positive. Effort and passion were evident as CJ Johnson, Farrington Huguennin, and Jason Hatcher battled and disrupted. In the end, it wasn’t enough. Postgame frustration was voiced to the media. If there was a locker room rift, add another to the fray, offense vs. defense.
What does all this mean?
Kentucky let another SEC win slip through their fingers. Pun intended. Much like against Auburn, Kentucky had the perceived better team and should have won. Unexplainable play calling, decision making, and other mishaps denied the Cats from inching one game closer to bowl eligibility. Now, with Charlotte and Louisville remaining, postseason play projections are bleak at best.
Kentucky is in trouble and staring down another 5-7 season. No way around it or kind way to word it. In a season when the schedule was placed on a tee for a homerun year, the Cats have swung and missed.
The Charlotte 49ers are coming to town for a 7:30 kickoff. I shudder while imagining the crowd, or lack thereof. But let me make a point, and make sure it’s read/heard loud and clear. The BBN has done their job. Even after 4-5 disappointment, that structure in Nashville was majority blue. Great job and thank you.
We were there. Leaving Vanderbilt with echoes of laughter and heckling from the few Commodore fans that actually attended the game was too much for me to handle. Just smiled and walked on. What could I say? Vanderbilt had a plan. Back to the bow-tied gift. In true “Frank the Tank” fashion, the Cats accepted the present. It slapped a blue and white bow on top, inside was a giant number “21,” the number of points UK gave to Vanderbilt.