Passing game absent for UK in win over Vandy


Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson carries the ball down the field at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, October 8, 2016. Kentucky defeats Vanderbilt 20-13. Photo by Lexi Baskin | Staff.

Anthony Crawford

Despite what the scoreboards read, in recent years there is seldom a real winner to come out of the series against UK and Vanderbilt, and that trend continued in this year’s edition as UK tried its hardest to give away the game before eventually winning 20-13.

The game stayed in question until the final seconds before the winning outcome was decided by UK’s defense, but it wouldn’t have been that way had the offense not let the Commodores back into the game to start the second half.

Thanks to two turnovers and an overall unreliable passing attack, UK forced itself into adversity that nearly saw the team’s demise. The final outcome achieved was not as pretty or as easy it should have been, but it’s what the team has to settle for.

“We overcame a lot of adversity and that’s what you have to do,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “You have to dig down and make plays to win sometimes. I don’t really care how it looks. Certainly I want to get a lot of things cleaned up, but I really am proud.”

After the opening scoring drive featured a decent balance in the rushing and passing games, the team was quickly forced into a more one dimensional look as quarterback Stephen Johnson struggled mightily to hit his mark through the air.

Johnson finished 10-for-24 with only 49 yards through the air, with one of the completions basically being a hand off on a jet sweep for wide receiver Ryan Timmons. His overall performance received a big boost in the second quarter where he became a threat in the run game, but his inability to make the easy passes was killer on numerous other drives.

Then once Stanley “Boom” William’s fumble was returned for a Vandy score to start the third quarter for UK, Johnson made matter worse by throwing an interception on their next drive.

The two turnovers shifted the momentum heavily into the Commodores’ corner until a late drive fueled by the tough running of Jojo Kemp and Benny Snell led to a field goal that gave UK the 20-13 lead that it held onto for the victory.

Stoops attributed it to Johnson being antsy and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran simply put it as him having chances and just missing them. But things need to change as UK has struggled since its win over New Mexico State to have a quality passing game.

The big play potential that the wide receivers have shown on in the season is becoming underutilized, and games like this one against Vanderbilt show how hard it is to win when you are over reliant on the running game. Johnson has shown that he can do it, but right now he is stuck in a high-turnover, inconsistent rut that UK needs him to get out of.

“We had guys open, he was running out of the pocket and he’s usually good at throwing,” Gran said. “And as a quarterback you gotta make those plays. And he will, I really believe it. I got full confidence in him.”