BOZICH | Three and out: Kentucky's D never rests, stuffs Vandy, 17-7
Kentucky's 17-game SEC losing streak is officially a footnote. The Wildcats' defense was relentless Saturday, lifting Kentucky past Vanderbilt in Commonwealth Stadium.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Three and out on Kentucky's 17-7 victory over Vanderbilt in Commonwealth Stadium Saturday, a victory that ended the Wildcats' 17-game Southeastern Conference losing streak and positioned UK (3-1) to vault past the Commodores in the SEC East this season.
1. Before Mark Stoops was named to replace Joker Phillips as the Kentucky football coach, Stoops made his name as the defensive coordinator at Florida State.
Kentucky wants to score big. Every team does. Kentucky wants a fast and flashy offense. Every team does.
But Stoops loves punishing defense. He believes it is a non-negotiable quality in great football teams. He understands that for the Wildcats to truly compete and succeed in the SEC, Kentucky needs a defensive line that can make opposing quarterbacks miserable with pass coverage to match.
Kentucky is getting there. Yes, it was only Vanderbilt (now 1-4), the worst offense in the SEC. But the Wildcats gave Vandy nowhere to run, hide or breathe Saturday.
The Commodores finished with 139 yards, only 54 running the football. Vandy averaged 2.5 yards per rush. The only points Vandy scored came on an interception.
"That was a thing of beauty," Stoops said. "For a defensive guy it was ... It was good. It was a lot of fun. The guys played hungry."
How does that compare to Vandy's totals from the Commodores' first two SEC games? Take a look – Vandy managed 167 yards against Ole Miss and 379 against South Carolina a week ago.
It gets better. The Wildcats' delivered two turnovers when Kentucky needed them most – in the fourth quarter.
First, safety Marcus McWilson batted a pass by Vandy quarterback Wade Freebeck high in the air and returned it 11 yards near midfield.
Then, with 9:26 to play after Kentucky fumble, safety A.J. Stamps stole another Freebeck pass and returned it 23 yards to the UK 44 yard line. Problem averted.
A fumbled punt put one final squeeze on the UK defense. They were ready. Ashely Lowery, who also plays safety, intercepted another Freebeck pass with 5:24 to play.
2. Eric Crawford and I received this question during our weekly webcast last week:
Where does Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles rank among quarterbacks in the East Division in the Southeastern Conference?
He's prominent in the discussion, right there with Dylan Thompson of South Carolina and Maty Mauk of Missouri. Towles showed Vanderbilt why Saturday.
He completed his first 11 passes. On the Wildcats' first drive, UK started on its 1-yard line. They marched 99 yards, scoring on a 20-yard pass to Ryan Timmons.
Did Towles make mistakes?
You bet – one terrible read on an out pattern. Towles threw into double coverage near the UK end zone. Vandy defensive back Darrius Sims saw the play coming from Nicholasville, jumped the route, intercepted the ball and rolled for a 13-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7 about five minutes into the second quarter.
He also fumbled near midfield in the fourth quarter. The turnovers negated some of his good work.
"You've got to hold onto it," Stoops said. "That can't happen ... He's got to do a better job of taking care of the football."
Towles recovered nicely from his first blunder. He didn't drop his helmet. He did not pout. He kept firing, creating, urging the offense to engage. Towles finished 23 of 30 for 201 yards with one touchdown.
3. UP NEXT – Get ready for a week of hearing about this statistic: 20-1.
You know what that means, right? Steve Spurrier is coming to town with the South Carolina Gamecocks. He's played Kentucky 21 times (as a coach). He's lost once – 31-28 in 2010. Knowing Spurrier, he's likely still not over that game. For some reason, perhaps his dislike of Bill Curry, Spurrier has always seemed to enjoy tweaking Kentucky.
The Gamecocks came into the weekend on a three-game winning streak and ranked 13th in the nation. South Carolina plays Missouri at 7 p.m. in Columbia. The Gamecocks' only loss was ugly – 52-28 to Texas A&M in their season opener.
If you trust Jeff Sagarin's Predictor computer power rankings, South Carolina is considered 9.52 points better than the Wildcats.
But those numbers don't include results from today's games.
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