No. 24 Kentucky devastated by Vanderbilt at home


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats running back JuTahn McClain (17) runs the ball down the field during the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt football game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 24-21. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Samantha Money, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 24 Kentucky (6-4) suffered an unexpected loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday at Kroger Field, ultimately coming up short 24-21.

The Cats found themselves in a trap game with the team likely looking ahead to taking on No. 1 Georgia next week and were unable to come out on top.

The Commodores had not defeated an SEC team in 26 straight games, with their last conference win occurring in October of 2019 when Vanderbilt upset then No. 22 Missouri 21-14.

The Cats also went into the game with the ego-booster of winning the past six matchups against the Commodores.

Nonetheless, Vanderbilt was bound to break its losing streak eventually and the low-energy performance from the Cats provided it with the perfect opportunity.

Kentucky played off of its game from the start, unable to find a touchdown until the final quarter.

“The execution in playing clean, once again, just didn’t happen,” head coach Mark Stoops said after the game. “We’re leaving points on the field. You know, missed-kicks, two-point conversions and driving the ball and not converting in the red zone. Defensively inconsistent.”

Despite the Commodores having the worst sack record (13 prior to kickoff) of the SEC this season, they successfully held the Wildcats to only attempting field goals for the first half.

Kicker Matt Ruffolo put up six points in the first quarter for Kentucky courtesy of 27-yard and 47-yard field goal kicks.

Although Kentucky did not have many triumphs during the game, Ruffolo did advance to sixth place for the Cats’ career scoring list after reaching 231 career points.

Going into the half, Vanderbilt had accumulated 201 total yards compared to the 147 from Kentucky.

The Cats were averaging just 3.3 yards per rush while Vanderbilt sat at a comfortable 7.6 yards per rush.

The third quarter continued to see little action on the field from Kentucky, who managed to obtain a single field goal in light of a touchdown from Vanderbilt.

It was apparent to quarterback Will Levis that the team did not play with energy against the Commodores.

“Not enough hype. Not enough juice,” Levis said. “We talked about it among us all week and we did not buy into it. We did not play hard as they did. We knew they were going to play hard as they play hard every single game you see them play.”

It was not until the fourth quarter when Kentucky would finally find the end zone thanks to running back Chris Rodriguez Jr.

Rodriguez Jr. amassed 18 carries for a total of 162 yards to secure the only two touchdowns for Kentucky against the Commodores. 

His season-long 72-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the game seemed to give Kentucky the energy it needed to narrowly avoid an upset but Vanderbilt, hungry for an SEC win, fought during those last minutes and took the lead back with a touchdown scored with just 32 seconds left in the game.

With the score now 24-21, Kentucky could not find the time to make it down the field in order to beat the Commodores. 

The loss hit the team hard and will force the Cats to evaluate their struggles in hopes of finishing the regular season on a high note.

I have been thinking about what I want to say to the guys, but I think I need to look in the mirror first and say to myself what can I do to improve?” Levis said. “If there is one point of emphasis that is the mentality. When you are engaged in football in any way the most attention-to-detail thing is focus and energy. You cannot be lackadaisical, and you cannot be lazy.” 

Kentucky will regroup and stay at home to play No. 1 Georgia on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 3:30 p.m. EST, with the game airing live on CBS.