NASHVILLE — In addition to my column, 10 more things from Kentucky’s 21-17 loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
1. Plenty of good seats should be available next Saturday. I wouldn’t expect a big crowd for Charlotte. Next Saturday’s game against the woeful 49ers wasn’t expected to be a big draw anyway, but it is even less so now. Kentucky will take a five-game losing streak into next Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff, that time itself not exactly user-friendly for a November night. For the second straight season, UK fans have seen a promising start — 5-1 in 2014; 4-1 in 2015 — dissolve into disappointment. That’s not the type of formula that will pack the stands at the new Commonwealth on Nov. 21.
2. An angry defense. This isn’t to say there’s a rift in the Kentucky locker room, but the defensive players whom we talked to during post-game interviews Saturday were not a happy bunch. They were a frustrated and upset group. In fact, I couldn’t use defensive tackle C.J. Johnson’s video because the senior let loose a bomb of a word when asked about his feelings. UK’s defense held Vanderbilt to 301 yards, yet the Cats have now lost five straight games.
3. Drew Barker is not the (only) answer. The redshirt freshman quarterback saw his first extended action of the season. He completed a 42-yard pass to Jeff Badet on his first attempt, which was part of a 70-yard drive in which he went three-for-three on his first possession. Next drive, Barker promptly threw a pick-six to Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks that put the Commodores back in front, 14-10. For the night, Barker completed five of eight passes for 60 yards with a TD and an interception. He also carried the ball four times for 26 yards. He showed promise. He also showed inexperience.
4. Boom returns with a boom! Part of the problem with the Kentucky offense the past two weeks has been that the Cats haven’t had Boom Williams. The sophomore suffered an elbow injury early in the Tennessee game and missed the Georgia game entirely. He returned Saturday and rushed for 115 yards on 13 carries. Williams had a 38-yard run and a 66-yard run. He also fumbled inside his own five-yard line, setting up a Vanderbilt score. Still, he is the lone home run hitter on this offense. It was good to see him back in the batter’s box.
5. Stop the fade passes. I’m not an offensive coordinator, I know. But I’ve never been a big fan of the fade pass down on the goal line. I’m even less so now. It appears that defenses and cornerbacks are better equipped to play the fade. They’ve seen it so many times, they know how to stop it. And sure enough, early in the second quarter, on a second-and-goal from the Vanderbilt three-yard line, Patrick Towles lofted a fade pass to Dorian Baker that ended up in the hands of a Vanderbilt defensive back. It was the second time in the game’s first 20 minutes in which Kentucky had a first-and-goal inside the Commodores’ five-yard line and failed to come away with points.
6. Taking the sure one instead of the risky two. I didn’t really have a problem with Mark Stoops’ decision not to go for two points at the end of the third quarter when UK had scored to pull within five, 21-16. Stoops opted to go for the PAT rather than the two-point conversion, saying he thought it was too early and he was worried about the consequences if the two-pointer failed. If Vandy kicked a field goal, the Commodores’ lead would have been 24-16.
7. Charles Walker did a decent job fielding punts. The receiver doesn’t have Ryan Timmons’ speed, but Walker didn’t let any balls bounce. He also didn’t fumble. He returned just two punts for 11 yards, but he made smart decisions.
8. Props to Farrington Huguenin, who made a team-high 10 tackles. Cory Johnson had eight tackles, and Jason Hatcher played possibly his best game of the year with eight tackles, including two for loss.
9. No room for error. To get to a bowl, Kentucky has to win out. The Cats need not only a win over Charlotte but a victory over visiting Louisville after Thanksgiving. Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals improved to 6-4 with a 38-31 win over Virginia on Saturday. Lexington Catholic product Kyle Bolin completed just 10 of 21 passes for 139 yards, but he did throw a TD pass and was not picked off. U of L running back Brandon Radcliff gained 146 yards on 21 carries.
10. More special teams woes. In my column, I talked about the play in which UK was forced to take a delay-of-game penalty when it had just 10 men on a field goal attempt. After the penalty, Austin MacGinnis missed the 37-yarder. I didn’t mention that Kentucky also had a punt blocked. More and more, the decision to not have a special teams coordinator, spreading the duties among the staff, looks like the wrong one.