BOZICH | Kentucky's bowl path open after 20-13 win over Vandy - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Kentucky's bowl path open after 20-13 win over Vandy

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The first Saturday of the Keeneland meet did not help the crowd at Kentucky Saturday. The first Saturday of the Keeneland meet did not help the crowd at Kentucky Saturday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — One thing has been non-negotiable if you have studied the most direct path to bowl eligibility for the Kentucky football program:

The Wildcats better beat Vanderbilt. 

The record shows that Kentucky has beaten Vandy in four of the Wildcats’ last five bowl trips — as well as 9 of their last 11 bowl appearances. That’s not a lock, but it’s as close to a lock as you’ll find on the Wildcats’ schedule, especially the Southeastern Conference portion of it. 

On spectacularly sunny Saturday afternoon, Kentucky bumped its record to 3-3 (2-2 in the SEC) by dispatching Vanderbilt, 20-13, in Commonwealth Stadium. The path to six victories remains open -- an interesting twist after the anger that flashed following UK's season-opening loss to Southern Miss.

After that come-from-ahead defeat, UK coach Mark Stoops said he told his player that, "outside of this room everybody will be attacking you. So your head down and stay the course. There's nowhere to run. There's nowhere to hide."

It wasn’t easy. The Wildcats have now played half their SEC schedule without throwing a touchdown pass. In fact, Kentucky has not thrown a touchdown pass in its last 13 quarters. 

It wasn’t pretty. Kentucky watched the visitors carve 10 points off UK’s 14-point halftime lead and drive the ball inside the UK 10 in the final 20 seconds.

It wasn’t even a Must-See moment for many UK fans. Kentucky announced a crowd of 55,030, although two substantial gaps of empty seats in the upper deck on the visitor's side certainly made it appear as if there were more than 6,000 tickets unsold or unused.

"I really don't care how it looks," Stoops said. "I really am proud ... That was a hard-fought, tough game, just as I said it would be on Monday ...

"You always want it to look easier, but we're not built that way."

The Wildcats won this one the old-fashioned way — handling Vanderbilt across both lines of scrimmage for most of the afternoon.

They were dominant for the first two quarters, carving a 17-3 halftime lead while outgaining Vandy, 185-81.

They were painfully sloppy in the third quarter, losing the ball twice on turnovers while getting flagged five times in less than five minutes. They were fortunate that Vanderbilt’s inept offense (the Commodores cannot throw the ball) was only able to score one touchdown.

But in the fourth quarter Stoops' team delivered when it needed to deliver. With 7:58 to play, Kentucky fielded a punt at its 34-yard line. The Wildcats did what they needed to do — control the line of scrimmage, the ball and the clock.

They converted a fourth-and-one with 2:42 to play, their third fourth down conversion of the game.

They bled more than six minutes off the clock, pushing the ball to the Vandy 11. Austin MacGinnis kicked a 28-yard field goal to bump Kentucky’s lead to seven.

Ball game? Not quite.

Vanderbilt started its final series on its 28 with 1:33 to play. The Commodores pushed the ball all the way to the UK 9 before the defense held on four snaps in the final 20 seconds. The final pass, from Kyle Shurmur to Kalija Lipscomb on the sideline of the end zone, fell incomplete with 2 seconds to play.

"We didn't want to go home with sad faces any more," UK linebacker Josh Allen said. 

Kentucky out-rushed the visitors, 258-141. Jojo Kemp ran for the first touchdown. Quarterback Stephen Johnson ran for the second.

Johnson was not effective throwing the football. It is not his strength. It showed. He completed only 10 of 24 passes for 49 yards. That's something Kentucky must upgrade as the schedule toughens.

"We really need a break right now," Stoops said. "We have the bye and another home game which will be nice. We have the good momentum."

Now the Wildcats have a week off to heal and improve. Mississippi State visits Oct. 22. The Bulldogs are struggling. They slipped to 2-3 Saturday when Auburn won in Starkville, 38-14. State started the season by losing to South Alabama. It is not a vintage Dan Mullen team, not without quarterback Dak Prescott.

Then comes a trip to Missouri, which has also lost three of its first five. The Tigers are winless in two SEC games.

The critical sixth win? Austin Peay, of course.

But first the Wildcats had to handle Vanderbilt. They did.

"We still have a long way to go," Stoops said. "But we're getting better ... We didn't flinch."

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