By Dr. John Huang
Sometimes you just need to score some style points. Luckily, a date with the Vanderbilt Commodores was just what the doctor ordered. Kentucky (3-4), behind the play of quarterback Terry Wilson, defeated their Music City neighbors 38 – 35 for a much needed “feel good” win.
In one of the most difficult UK sports weeks in recent memory—with the unexpected passing of offensive line coach John Schlarman—Mark Stoops’ football Cats won one for the “Gipper.”
Not only did Kentucky deliver, but they also did it in noteworthy fashion, the once-dormant offense amassing 458 total yards and unleashing a pent-up fury of points worthy of Knute Rockne’s motivational gambit. As if right on cue, the Wildcats scored on their first five possessions of the game and the offense played hard for the entire sixty minutes.
“Obviously, it was extremely important for us to come away with a victory today,” Stoops said in his opening postgame remarks. “As it’s been well documented all week, it was extremely important for us to play well for Lee Anne, for Coach John Schlarman, his family, his kids. I was really proud of this team to get this victory. It was an emotional week.”
Kentucky started the game with the “missing man” formation in honor of Schlarman, who died on Wednesday night after a two-year battle with cancer. The Cats took a delay of game penalty before tackle Landon Young—wearing Schlarman’s No. 65 Jersey—ran onto the field to officially begin the contest. Kentucky then proceeded to march methodically down the field on a perfectly executed 9-play, 75-yard scoring drive culminating in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to senior tight end Justin Rigg. It was Rigg’s first career touchdown catch.
On the afternoon, Wilson completed 13 of 15 passes for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also rushed 7 times for 83 yards including a 32-yard touchdown scamper to put the Wildcats up 14 – 0 with still over four minutes left in the first quarter.
Chris Rodriguez carried the ball 13 times for a career-high 149 yards and 2 touchdowns. His 74-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was his career-long rush from scrimmage and effectively put the game away. He also became the 39th player in school history to reach 1,000 yards.
Chance Poore, stepping in for the absent Matt Ruffolo, was perfect—going 5 for 5 on extra points and drilling a 28-yard field goal.
In addition, Josh Ali had a career long 39-yard punt return and Keaton Upshaw also hauled in a 21-yard TD pass to continue Kentucky’s tight end assault.
Although the defense didn’t exactly shine, Jamin Davis remained a consistent bright spot. The junior linebacker garnered 15 total tackles (6 of them solo) and one tackle for loss.
With the win, Mark Stoops now has 47 career victories, tying him with Fran Curci for 2nd on the all-time UK win list. He takes over sole possession of the all-time “home wins” record with 34, surpassing the legendary Coach Bear Bryant.
In conclusion, that’s a lot of style points for one afternoon.
Next Week, However, It’s Back to Reality
Barring a Covid change in schedule, the Alabama Crimson Tide lurk frighteningly around the corner. If Vanderbilt at home is a perfect get-well remedy, a trip to Tuscaloosa to face Nick Saban might just be a nightmare in the making. At the beginning of the year, this game didn’t look quite so daunting. With Kentucky’s recent struggles of late, an ugly blowout might unfortunately be in order.
If the game is indeed played, score style points for the Tide in this one.
On the other hand, stranger things have happened in 2020. If Kentucky stays Schlarman Strong for the remainder of the year, we might all be in for a miraculous surprise regardless of whoever’s up next on the schedule.