Mark Stoops previews Saturday’s match up against Vanderbilt


Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops stares down a referee after receiving an unsportsmanlike conduct call during the UK vs. Tennessee football game on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Tennessee won 45-42. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

“We just need to have a great week of preparation—it’s how we respond,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said. “Nobody likes being in this situation. How much does it bother you to make a difference, to make a change? How we react will return the outcome.”

The response to adversity, for Kentucky, comes in the form of three-straight SEC losses to the likes of No. 1 Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee. Those three losses kicked Kentucky right out of the AP Top 25 Sunday afternoon.

For this match up, Kentucky has defeated Vanderbilt five years in a row, but have 6-4 record over the Commodores over the last 10 seasons. The Wildcats hold the edge all-time with a 47-42-4 overall record. Saturday, Kentucky travels to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt looking to extend that streak to six.

“Our players know that,” Stoops said about the close record against Vanderbilt. “We fear no one and respect everything, everybody. We’re beyond that, we know at that point we respect the game. Do we always play our best? No, I can’t sit here and say that—we don’t … It is [the coaches] job and our challenge, we have to get them ready every week.”

Stoops pointed out the fact that his defensive line is down a few of their top players in Marquan “Bully” McCall and Octavious Oxendine. “It’s not an excuse. It is what it is. Other teams are down players, too. We’re beat up a little bit,” Stoops said.

It’s not just the defensive line that’s suffering from injury, the offensive line has fallen on poor fortune as of late, too. Stoops announced Monday that starting guard Austin Dotson, who earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors after Kentucky’s victory over LSU and was even named a Midseason All-American by ESPN and AP, will be out for the remainder of the season due to an undisclosed injury suffered during the Tennessee game.

“I’d like to have our best players and our best pass rushers out there, but they are not,” Stoops said. “It is what it is.”

That bodes well for Vanderbilt’s dual-threat quarterback Mike Wright. His 48-89 completions for 545 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions through three starts aren’t exactly stats that pop out at you right away, but when you hear he’s totaled 59 carries for 286 yards as well—while Kentucky is without their top interior defensive linemen—that could spell disaster for a Kentucky defense that’s playing their worst football to date this season.

Ken Seals, the quarterback that started the first six games for the Commodores this season has played sparingly after going down with an injured finger nearly a month ago. Prior to his injury, Seals completed 114-206 passes for 1,086 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.

“We know our system, what we do, how we play certain plays and how we play certain systems,” Stoops said. “[Vanderbilt has] multiple right now because of the two styles of quarterbacks they have, so you have to be ready for both.”

The atmosphere at Vanderbilt Stadium this Saturday will feature a “blackout” incentive, which, in theory, should hype the fans up and bring some camaraderie that the program has been missing with the fan base over the years—Stoops isn’t worried about what Vanderbilt is doing, though.

“I never spend any time wondering or worrying about what other teams are doing,” Stoops said. “… I worry about getting our team right, and getting my team back on. We get very excited, very motivated. We’re not very happy, but we also have an opportunity. This is where you have to lead and work hard and get our guys right. How we respond will determine the outcome.”