That was one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen. Despite Kentucky’s offense posting over eight yards per play and holding Vandy under the five yards per play threshold for most of the game, the Wildcats barely held on to a three-point victory over a winless Vanderbilt squad at home.
There was plenty of good to take away from this game, but this team was again blistered situationally and it almost led to an upset in what would have been a gutting loss for the program. However, a win is a win but this one will most certainly be overanalyzed and it could be a very long talking point if the SEC decides to reschedule the game scheduled for next week to allow the Tide to play LSU.
As we do each week, we’ll take you inside the game and show you the game’s most important plays. Luckily for this week, Kentucky came out the winner on these situations and it allowed them to move to 3-4 in 2020.
1.) Perfect Opening Drive
It was announced before the game that Terry Wilson would be the starting quarterback and after Vanderbilt won the opening toss and deferred, we knew we would see him back in the lineup right away. What followed was a perfect possession.
The Wildcats went 75 yards in 9 plays with a 100% success rate with big plays contributed via both the ground and the air. The Wildcats never faced a third down and it was just the second time this season UK opened the game with a touchdown. It ended with a beautiful catch by Justin Rigg in the endzone.
Kentucky gets Vandy to bite on the play-action and Rigg runs right past the linebackers. With no safety, it’s an easy pitch-and-catch for six. Kentucky claimed an early lead they would never relinquish and set the tone for his unit’s performance.
2.) Momentum Altering Penalty
After an early stop, Kentucky went down and scored a touchdown on their second possession leading to an early 14-0 lead. Vanderbilt then faced a 3rd-and-7 at midfield on the first play of the second quarter. UK had the play defended, but a poorly time facemask showed up.
If Boogie Watson strikes Keyon Henry-Brooks just a little bit lower, it’s fourth-and-long and UK is going to get the football back with a ton of momentum. One more score would’ve put Vanderbilt in an almost automatic pass situation down three scores. Instead, the flag gives them the first down and they score on an explosive play touchdown the very next snap.
This development would give a young offense some early confidence and they would go on to deliver four touchdown drives with at least 10 plays. It’s likely blowout city if this facemask does not occur.
3.) Some Fumble Luck
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Kentucky would get the ball back clinging to a 10-point lead but backed up inside their 10. The game was very much in the balance and the Wildcats needed to put together a good drive. On first down, a lane opened for Terry Wilson on a zone rad but disaster nearly struck.
The only fumble of the game was put on the turf and there were a ton of Vanderbilt defenders in the area. Somehow, tight end Justin Rigg won a wrestling match in the pile and UK recovered the football. It felt like the first time all year that the offense was able to recover a fumble by their teammates. It was a blessing.
Two snaps later, Chris Rodriguez Jr. would rumble 74 yards to the crib giving UK a 17-point and three possession cushion with just nine minutes left in the game.
Despite winning nearly every statistical category in both the traditional and the advanced stat box score battle, UK left Kroger Field with just a three-point victory against a winless Vanderbilt squad. The best extended red zone defense in the SEC could all of a sudden not buy a stop against one of the worst finishing drives offenses in college football. Add that in with UK removing their foot of the gas a bit too early and the result were two late touchdowns and a needed onside kick recovery.
Kentucky deserved to win that game by double-digits, but football can be weird. The Wildcats have major work to do when it comes to their third and fourth down defense as you cannot expect to win when opponents go 13 of 19. However, the passing game gained some confidence today and Chris Rodriguez Jr. is one of the best tailbacks in the SEC. He just needs to be used like one.
It’s never as good or as bad as it seems, but situational football is important. Kentucky got slashed in this part of the game and it almost turned a blowout into a disaster.