Chris Rodriguez and the Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt Saturday night in Nashville. (UK Athletics Photo)
Kentucky won a football game for the first time in a month.
The Wildcats ended a three-game losing streak with a 34-17 win at Vanderbilt Saturday night in Nashville. The victory was much-needed following a grueling stretch that included a 30-13 loss at top-ranked Georgia, followed by a disappointing 31-17 showing at Mississippi State on Halloween weekend and last weekend’s 45-42 shootout loss to neighboring Tennessee.
“It’s been a long several weeks, for sure,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “You can get beat up and beat down physically, and mentally in this league and that’s for sure. I really appreciate our players for bouncing back with a great week of preparation, coming on the road, and getting another SEC East victory and that was big for us.”
It would have been easy for the Wildcats to feel sorry for themselves following two-straight losses coming off an open date, but Kentucky took care of business early against the Commodores and clinched sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division for the first time since the divisions split in 1992. The Wildcats tied for second in the division in 2016 and again in 2018.
“We came out confident, we came out ready to play,” Kentucky senior defensive lineman Josh Paschal said. “The energy was high and we knew that we were the better team and we knew we had to get through … we were hungry for a win, we hadn’t won in like a month. We were ready to get a win.”
Kentucky has now won six in a row against Vanderbilt and has defeated the Commodores soundly in the three times the teams have met in Nashville since 2017 while overcoming close calls at Kroger Field in 2018 (14-7) and by a 38-35 margin last season in Lexington.
Unlike its previous game in Music City, in which the Wildcats fell behind early 14-3 before scoring 35 unanswered for a relatively easy 38-14 win over the Commodores, things were much simpler this time around. Kentucky exploded for 24 points in the second quarter to set the tone for the team’s seventh victory in the past eight games against Vanderbilt.
It wasn’t that long ago, Kentucky and Vanderbilt were fighting to avoid hitting alone in the basement in the SEC East, but times have changed and the Commodores’ best hope for winning a conference game this season will be at Ole Miss next week, followed by the season finale at rival Tennessee on Thanksgiving weekend.
If not for the fast start, things could have been different. The Commodores outscored the Wildcats 14-3 in the second half, crossing the goal line twice and converting a 2-point conversion.
“I felt like we could have been more in attack mode in the second half,” Stoops said. “We got a little bit out of character defensively …. the game is meant to be played with respect and that means every time you are on that field, playing 100 percent, with your head on fire and electric. I think at times we eased (in the second half). That’s aggravating (at times).”
In the opening half, Stoops said his team displayed “the best complimentary football we’ve played in some time.”
And that was in big part because of his team’s veterans, paced by quarterback Will Levis, receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and running back Chris Rodriguez. Levis threw for 177 yards and two touchdowns while Robinson hauled in six passes for 75 yards and Rodriguez rushed for 114 yards and scored a touchdown.
“It feels forever since we got a win,” Levis said. “We really didn’t do anything special, we just kept pushing and kept preparing as we have all season and I’m glad we came together and we were able to get a win.”
Even though the Wildcats didn’t defeat the Commodores soundly, they needed this win badly.