CRAWFORD | Latest Kentucky loss at Vandy just another sad countr - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Latest Kentucky loss at Vandy just another sad country song, 21-17

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UK quarterback Drew Barker is brought down for a loss in Kentucky's 21-17 loss to Vanderbilt. (AP photo) UK quarterback Drew Barker is brought down for a loss in Kentucky's 21-17 loss to Vanderbilt. (AP photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) — This wasn’t a football game so much as a sad country song. What the University of Kentucky did at Vanderbilt on Saturday, you could sing about at the Grand Ole Opry. Print this column and send it to the CMA’s. Put on some Chet Atkins accompaniment and see if it doesn’t move you to tears.

Kentucky didn’t just lose its fifth straight game in Music City on Saturday. Reports are that its trucks, girlfriends and dogs all were stolen — nor were its mamas all that happy. And I’m sure someone, somewhere is drunk — and I’m not talking about the coaches, before you even ask.

The Wildcats lost 21-17 to Vanderbilt on Saturday. They came up empty twice inside the Vandy 5-yard line. They again got torched in the final minutes of the first half. And despite finding no efficiency in the passing game, they continued to throw the ball. They threw it 34 times for 127 yards. They ran it 37 for 225.

“Very difficult loss,” UK coach Mark Stoops said. “Heartbreaking for our team. I thought the team played with a lot of energy and a lot of passion and a lot of heart, and we practiced all week that way. We put a lot into this game, and we came up on the short end. The game comes down to a lot of critical plays, and also, you know, a few decisions, by myself.”

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason called a game so conservative that Fox News wants to host his next coaches show. Mason got 21 points and, like a blackjack player, just said, “We’ll stick.”

Vandy blocked a UK punt in the fourth quarter, up 21-17, and Mason said, good, we can pin them deep. Vandy had the ball at the UK 19 yard line in the final minute and took a delay of game — yeah, on purpose — then ran the ball straight ahead, giving UK the ball back with 10 seconds left rather than risking a field goal or a kickoff return.

Mason nursed a 21-17 lead like it was the last beer in the house.

Despite all that, Mason was the coach smiling at Miller Time. UK (4-6), despite numerous chances, couldn’t put together anything, even with a virtual trip to a bowl game on the line.

Up 3-0 in the first quarter, UK had it first and goal at the Vandy 1 after a 38-yard run by Boom Williams, and failed to gain the needed yard on four straight plays. No points.

Vandy took the ball, drove into UK territory, punted, and two plays later recovered a Williams fumble at UK’s 4-yard line to set up their first score.

Early in the second quarter, UK forced a Vandy fumble and recovered at the Commodores’ three. Next play, Towles threw incomplete for Garrett Johnson. Play after that, Towles threw an end-zone interception. No points. Again.

Even after all that, UK rallied with freshman QB Drew Barker in the game. He led a 5-play, 70-yard TD drive to put the Wildcats up 10-7 with just over 10 minutes to play in the first half.

But again, late in the half, disaster struck. In UK’s past four games, it has been outscored 42-3 in the final 5:30 of the first half. Auburn, Mississippi State and now Vanderbilt all outscored UK 14-0 to close out the half.

In this one, Barker threw a 30-yard pick six with 5:10 to play in the half.

UK got the ball back and drove to midfield, but on 4th and 1 with 1:20 left, the Wildcats threw a deep pass incomplete to Blake Bone, giving it back to Vandy on downs. 

Stoops singled out that as one play he wished he had back. So did offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. Coaches hoped to draw Vandy offside. And they were debating what to call on the sideline, and decided to take a shot.

“We wanted to take a shot, and we took a shot,” Dawson said. “Ultimately, hindsight is 20-20 on everything.”

For once, Vandy wasn’t conservative. On third down at the UK 37, Vandy used some trickery. Louisville fans will remember it as the “Mills Kills” play that Southern Miss used to beat the Cardinals way back. 

The Commodores, coming out of a timeout, broke the huddle, put 10 in the box, and snapped the ball. UK did a good job with the 10 in the box, but nobody went out to cover the receiver out wide. A simple pitch and catch put Vanderbilt up 21-10 with 38 seconds until halftime, and the Commodores would have all the points they needed.

“Deception play that we got deceived on,” Stoops said. “Totally legal.”  
  
UK defensive coordinator D.J. Elliot said coaches in the box saw what was happening, but couldn’t get word to the sideline in time to call timeout.

“We have a guy who watches that, and he did see it, and he did communicate it,” Eliot said. “But he just didn’t communicate it the right way quick enough for us to get a timeout.”

What was the coach saying? “Football stuff that you wouldn’t understand,” Eliot told a reporter.

All righty.

Apparently, there was a lot of football stuff I didn’t understand from this game. UK used a 66-yard Boom Williams run to set up a third-quarter touchdown, but instead of going for two and potentially pulling within three points, the Wildcats took the one and still trailed 21-17.

With 10:21 left in the game, UK had Austin MacGinnis lined up for a field goal, but there was confusion with a player running off the field. Coaches sent him back on, but ended up taking a delay of game penalty. The 32-yard try became 37, and MacGinnis missed, meaning the Wildcats still needed a touchdown to win. It’s a good thing there’s no special teams coach — that guy would be toast.

I didn’t understand those things.
  
Nor did I understand how Patrick Towles could throw it 26 times and run it six more (not counting two sacks), accounting for 32 touches while the talented running back trio of Williams, Kemp and Mikel Horton got only 25 touches combined.

Williams averaged 8.8 yards per touch and Kemp 6.6.

At this point, there’s a lot that fans won’t understand. They showed up in force, forming a majority of the 30,031 in the stands at Vanderbilt. UK has showed up, pumping major resources into stadium renovations and other facilities.

Nobody’s throwing in the towel — or throwing in the Towles — on Stoops at this point. But beating Vanderbilt isn’t too much to ask. And most figured that given the level of recruiting over the past two years and momentum the Wildcats generated early this season, another 2-6 finish in the Southeastern Conference is tough to take.

But there’s not much you can do if you’re Stoops. Just try to win the next one, which fortunately for the Wildcats, is against  a Charlotte team that has lost eight straight. Stoops, to his credit, doesn’t ever shy away from the truth.

“I know I’ve got to make better decisions,” Stoops said. “ . . . But I’m not going anywhere, and we’re going to go back to work."

You can set that final sentence to steel guitars all you want, it doesn’t get any easier to hear.

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