By LARRY VAUGHT
Always remember this — there are no bad Kentucky football wins.
Despite back to back winning seasons and bowl trips, Kentucky football still has few gimme wins, especially in Southeastern Conference play. So use words like ugly, nasty, or inefficient for Kentucky’s 14-7 win over Vanderbilt Saturday night. Just don’t say it wasn’t a needed win.
Just as one might guess, with Kentucky struggling its two best players — running back Benny Snell and linebacker Josh Allen — made the biggest plays.
Snell scored the winning touchdown on a 7-yard run with 8:04 to play to cap off a 12-play, 80-yard drive where he carried the ball 10 times. If that’s not impressive enough, Kentucky did that with three backup linemen — Luke Fortner, Mason Wolfe and Darian Kinnard — in the game.
Snell finished with 169 yards on 32 carries and once again was an absolute warrior in the fourth quarter.
Allen forced a fumble on Vanderbilt’s last possession when he he stripped quarterback Kyle Shurmur and teammate Mike Edwards recovered the fumble. You might remember Allen did the same thing on the final play of UK’s win at Florida. He finished with eight total tackles, five solo stops, two sacks, two tackles for loss and one pass breakup along with forced fumble.
On a night where UK’s offense struggled with its passing again — quarterback Terry Wilson was 3-for-9 passing for 18 yards — it was the defense and Snell that had to win a game that boosted UK to 6-1 (bowl eligible) and 4-1 in SEC play. Kentucky has now won four SEC games three years in a row.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he was happy his team could “grind out” a win thanks mainly to the defense that overcame turnovers on UK’s first two possessions and held Vandy to 284 yards.
“Never going to apologize for a victory. Certainly there are things we need to do better. We always do that. Win or lose, we’re going to go back to work, look at ourselves, look at things we can do better, starting with me,” Stoops said after the win. “Again, you can’t apologize for being 6-1.”
No, you can’t or shouldn’t. But you have to worry about the offense, especially the passing game. Going back to the second half of the South Carolina game, Kentucky has scored three touchdowns and only 21 points in 29 possessions. That formula won’t produce a win at Missouri in UK’s next game — Missouri scored 63 points Saturday in a win over Memphis — or the following week against Missouri.
The problem stems from a non-productive passing game. Quarterback Terry Wilson ran for 12 times for 91 yards but in a game where Stoops insisted he wanted to get the ball to more receivers — he especially said UK had to target tight end C.J. Conrad — there were just three pass completions and they all went to Lynn Bowden.
Stoops admitted UK had to get more out of the passing game. “I think, once again, the (turnover) possessions. When you finally get a drive starter, Terry makes a good decision on second down, rips off a 15-yard run, puts it on the ground, that doesn’t help,” Stoops said. “Then we go to throw the ball, throw a little swing pass, put that behind us, fumble it. You’re behind the sticks all night. Those kind of conditions don’t help us. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”
No you can’t and Kentucky won this game because its best players did what a team needs stars to do when the game is one the line.
“To put it on Benny’s back there when, once again, everybody knew he was running the ball. Thought our offense, the coaches did a really good job of getting formations and keep on finding ways to open up some holes,” Stoops said. “Our O-line’s mentality, their toughness, and Benny making some really good runs, really felt like we had an opportunity even at the end there to get that last run to put it away, to ice it. We just missed it by fractions. “But they did a really good job. Of course, Josh, predictable pass situations, that’s when he’s at his best. Doesn’t surprise me (what he did).”