Past loss motivation for upcoming Vandy matchup


Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson drives the ball down the line before being tackled by South Carolina at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, September 24, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 17-10. Photo by Lydia Emeric | Staff 

Chris Angolia

With Saturday’s 34-6 loss to No. 1 Alabama, UK Football now sits at 2-3, one game under .500, but the loss seemed to create more optimism surrounding the team heading into this week’s matchup up with the 2-3 Vanderbilt Commodores.

The Cats have lost four of the last five games to the Commodores including a 21-17 heartbreaker in Nashville which killed UK’s hopes of getting to a bowl game. Head coach Mark Stoops knows how important last year’s game was.

“Does last year’s Vanderbilt game hurt? Absolutely. It bothers me and will probably bother me the rest of my life. But this is a total new year,” Stoops said Monday. 

However, with the sting of last year, that loss is clearly past the team and it needs to be. 

At 2-3, this game is one that decides their season and if they will have any chance of getting to a bowl game. Saturday will also be no easy task for the Cats for the numerous challenges that the Commodores pose.

Related: Preseason Q&A with John Calipari

On defense, Vanderbilt is led by the SEC’s leading tackler, linebacker Zach Cunningham. Cunningham leads a very experienced defense against UK’s offense and that experienced defense held Florida to just 286 yards of total offense in their loss to the Gators last Saturday.

“They play hard, they play physical, they are coached very well and they will fight you tooth and nail every play,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said about Vanderbilt’s defense. “It’s a team that everywhere I have been we have battled with them every year and I respect the heck out of them.”

The Cats’ offense will already be facing a difficult task on Saturday, but over the last two games, they have made things more difficult on themselves by turning the ball over, something Vanderbilt’s defense is very good at. UK currently sits at last place in the SEC with a -7 turnover differential whereas the Commodores have a +3 turnover differential, and come game day, turnovers could play a big factor in who wins the game. 

As for the Commodores offense, running back Ralph Webb leads the SEC in rushing yards with 582 yards along with five rushing touchdowns. 

“(Webb) is a very, very good player … They’re riding him right now. They’re making it difficult with their shifting, motions,” Stoops said in his Wednesday teleconference.

Related: From New Zealand to Lexington: Probert chases childhood dream

Despite having Webb, the Commodores have an interesting quarterback situation because their starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur was poked in the eye last week against Florida but plans on playing with some form of eye protection this week.

Linebacker Jordan Jones and safety Mike Edwards, who are two of the top four tacklers in the SEC, will look to limit Webb’s effectiveness and make the Commodores throw the ball, something they struggle with. 

The importance of this game for UK cannot be understated being that it virtually decides the season, and luckily for UK, their players know it.

“We know what type of game it is, we have to win,” cornerback Derrick Baity said. “That’s the type of game it is; we have to win.”