Vicky Graff Photo
Vanderbilt players said they were having a “party in the locker room” after their dramatic 24-21 win over Kentucky.
The Kentucky locker room had to feel more like a funeral parlor — or should have.
This was EASILY the worst loss in Mark Stoops’ coaching tenure at Kentucky. Vanderbilt’s seniors had not won a Southeastern Conference game since they were FRESHMAN but they came to Lexington and beat a team that openly talked about challenging for the SEC Eastern Division title this year.
Instead, UK is 6-4 and clinging to having a winning season. The Cats are not going to beat Georgia in their next game. In fact, it’s hard to see the game even being close and CBS-TV certainly has to be dreading having the game for its showcase SEC game.
Then will come Louisville, a team Kentucky expected to manhandle but now will be lucky to beat to avoid a 6-6 season.
How can that happen with a veteran defense and an offense that features quarterback Will Levis, running back Chris Rodriguez and a lot of talented receivers. But the UK offense continues to have a lot more fizzle than sizzle.
“I’m sure the team is very hurt and embarrassed with the way they played. We all are,” Stoops said after the game.
They should be.
But here is what I don’t get. I respect Levis a lot. He’s a tough guy. But after he went 11-for-23 for only 109 yards with one interception and was sacked four times, Levis said Kentucky just was not into the game.
Pardon me. How the hell can that be?
“Not enough hype. Not enough juice. We talked about it among us all week and we did not buy into it. We did not play hard as they did,” Levis said. “We knew they were going to play hard as they play hard every single game you see them play, whether they lose by 50 or win you never know. We knew that about them, and we did not match them today.”
Amazing and that is on Stoops. This has happened way too often this year — South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt immediately come to mind. But even in the early season non-conference wins, Kentucky was not dominating or all that intense at times.
Stoops said he thought the intensity was “average at best” from his team. Maybe there’s been way too much NIL and bowl location talk and not enough about just playing solid football.
“The execution in playing clean, once again, just didn’t happen. We’re leaving points on the field. Missed-kicks, two-point conversions and driving the ball and not converting in the red zone. Defensively inconsistent,” Stoops said.
The coach talked about no finger pointing but just going back to work to address issues the team has. I think Kentucky fans are tired of hearing that and seeing no change.
Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and offensive line coach Zach Yenser have both been heavily criticized by UK fans. The Cats had just 322 yards and 162 of those yards came on 18 carries by Rodriguez, who had a 72-yard scoring run.
But UK had only three pass plays over 10 yards. Freshman Barion Brown had four targets with one catch for a loss of one yard. Freshman Dane Key had four targets with one catch for 29 yards.
Stoops was asked if he would consider staff changes since other schools have changed coordinators during a season that was not going well.
His answer: “No.”
Is there consideration for a new offensive line coach?
“I just answered that question,” Stoops said.
But he’s frustrated — and should be at both himself and his team.
“Very frustrated and disappointed that I’m not getting it done. I’m not communicating well enough to push on the things that we need to get better at,” Stoops said. “That’s frustrating and also disappointing, and something that I’ve got to figure out.”
But he’s not going to figure that out in a mismatch against Georgia and one has to wonder if the Cats will have anything left in the tank against Louisville based on this clunker against Vanderbilt.