BOZICH | Will Louisville be a bowl game moment for improved Kent - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Will Louisville be a bowl game moment for improved Kentucky?

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 LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – For the last dozen years, Jim Gertsch has served on the selection committee for the two bowl games that the Florida Citrus Sports committee operates in Orlando. He has traveled across the Southeastern Conference scouting teams.

Gertsch had never been to Commonwealth Stadium – until Saturday, when Gertsch and another committee member watched Kentucky suck all the adrenaline from the Vanderbilt offense in a 17-7 UK victory.


You could say that. He sat through Mark Stoops' entire post-game press conference simply for the opportunity to introduce himself and shake Stoops' hand.

Stoops' eyes blossomed when he saw the patch on Gertsch's dark blazer when the two men finally met.

“Thanks so much for coming up and saying hello,” Stoops said.

Gertsch told me he would love to invite the Wildcats to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, which has ties to the Southeastern Conference. It's a Jan. 1 game that will likely feature the SEC's third- or fourth-best team.

Calm down. Inhale, exhale. Hold off on e-mailing my boss to suggest that I banged my head on the goal posts. I'm not projecting Kentucky to the Citrus Bowl. The Wildcats are working off one SEC win since 2011. 

But these are fair questions to ask: Can Kentucky topple South Carolina (losers of two home games) Saturday night in Commonwealth Stadium?

Will the Wildcats, already 3-1, be playing for bowl eligibility (six wins), when they close their season at Louisville Nov. 29?

Some will snicker at the concept, but not as many as were snickering a month ago, before Kentucky won three games and played the cleats off Florida. Hey, even Steve Spurrier believes this South Carolina has king-sized warts.

Louisiana-Monroe is a game Kentucky should win. Indiana won at Missouri, another future UK opponent. Tennessee has flaws. Louisville is not scoring jumbo-sized numbers. It's no longer silly to say Kentucky can win six games.

Is this South Carolina game more interesting after Saturday?

“Most definitely,” said UK defensive lineman Bud Dupree. “Every week from now on will be more interesting. I think the SEC East is wide open. We've just got to go out and keep winning.”

I understand if you're still waiting for Kentucky to prove the Wildcats can beat somebody better than a team that lost to Temple by 30 points in Nashville. Vandy is back to being Vandy again.

But Kentucky did to Vanderbilt what Kentucky is supposed to do to Vanderbilt: dominate and at times overwhelm, especially on defense.

Too many times over the last three seasons nobody was surprised when Kentucky allowed 139 yards of total offense in a single quarter. Vandy stumbled to 139 yards the entire game. That's a better job than the Ole Miss defense did against Vandy and a much better job than South Carolina did against the Commodores.

“We're not really worried about that,” said UK safety Marcus McWilson.

Vandy failed to get even 50 yards in a single quarter. The Kentucky defense got stronger as the game went on, limiting Vandy to 48 yards in the first quarter, 34 in the second, 32 in the third and 25 in the fourth. That was the quarter when Kentucky intercepted three passes, making Vandy quarterback Wade Freebeck look like a guy who needed another season in high school.

“It's just swagger and we know what we're doing,” said UK defensive back Blake McClain. “We're confident about what we're doing.”

I know Vandy is shaky, and the Commodores were using their backup quarterback. I also know this was the fewest yards Kentucky has allowed in a Southeastern Conference game in 18 years – another Vandy game.

No reason to wait. Play the next play. Ask the next question.

Can Kentucky beat South Carolina next Saturday night in Commonwealth Stadium?

Can the Wildcats play with the Gamecocks?

“Coach (Steve) Spurrier is a fantastic coach that's won a bunch of ball games, always finds ways to move the football, and his teams always play with a lot of confidence and a lot of toughness,” Stoops said.

“And it will be a real challenge.  He's been there a long time building that program to where they're a contender in the SEC every year, and we'll be up for a real challenge.”

The statistic of the week last week was that Kentucky had lost 17 consecutive SEC games. The statistic of this week will be that Steve Spurrier has won 20 of 21 games against Kentucky. Nobody does it better.

I asked several UK players if they knew Spurrier was 20-1 against the Wildcats. They did not. They do now.

“It's OK,” McWilson said. “It's not a big deal. We'll just prepare, prepare, prepare as much as we can. And hope for a good game on Sunday.”

Maybe the guys from the Florida Citrus Sports committee will make another visit.

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