JOE COX: Football Wildcats Look Ahead to Two Remaining Chances To Gain Ground
In a game which provided a yardstick for Kentucky to assess the progress of the past two seasons, Mark Stoops’s Wildcats fell behind Vanderbilt 7-0, but then responded with 34 unanswered points on the way to a 44-21 victory last Saturday. The win, UK's seventh of the season, clinched back-to-back winning seasons for the Wildcats.
Kentucky utilized its most balanced offensive performance of the season to amass the season-high 44 points. Running back Benny Snell rushed 17 times for 116 yards and three touchdowns—his third consecutive game with three scores. On the second of those touchdowns, Snell surpassed the career UK rushing touchdown record. Quite an accomplishment for a player with three games remaining in his sophomore season. He also surpassed 1,000 yards on the season, making him UK’s first ever back-to-back 1,000 yard rusher. Junior Siheim King added 69 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
Quarterback Steven Johnson was an efficient 13 for 17 for 195 yards. Johnson added 44 yards rushing as well. Freshman Lynn Bowden finished with 79 yards receiving, and nearly scored on a 93-yard kickoff return.
Defensively, Kentucky did give up some chunks of yardage to Vandy, notably quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who threw for 308 yards and a touchdown. But UK intercepted Shurmur four times and sacked him five. One highlight was the play of Denzil Ware, who managed two sacks and an interception in just 17 snaps on the field.
With the win, Kentucky now faces a pair of challenging matchups to conclude the regular season—at an angry Georgia squad which just tumbled from the top spot in the CFP rankings, and then at home against a hit-and-miss Louisville team. By winning a seventh game, Kentucky has assured itself of not taking a step back from its 2016 record. But an eighth regular season win—an occurrence missing since 1984—would again help the program continue moving up the chaotic SEC East.
Both of the remaining games will feature Kentucky as an underdog, although the contest at Georgia more so than the Louisville matchup. This Wildcat team has seemed to play much of its best football with its back to the wall. Also, Snell is on an absolutely historic tear running the football.
If the seventh win over Vanderbilt silenced some of Stoops’s critics, an eighth win in Athens or over Louisville would feed them a nice slice of crow that they could probably enjoy in Tampa for the Outback Bowl. The knock on this Kentucky team is that they have basically beaten teams that they should beat, but haven’t pulled a big-name victory. The end of the season brings a pair of chances to change that narrative. Win either and consider it done. Win both and consider this run to be historic.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books. His most recent, Almost Perfect (a study of baseball pitchers’ near-miss attempts at perfect games) is available on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com.