By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Mark Stoops has been pleased with his team’s response coming off a disappointing 17-13 loss to Tennessee and saw no signs of a letdown going into Saturday’s contest at Vanderbilt.
“I really feel that coming off a tough loss they had their focus early in the week,” Stoops said earlier this week. “Any time you come off a tough loss like that you have to bounce back quick. I’m proud of our team and the way they’ve responded. I feel good about it. Hopefully it’ll carry over Saturday, we’ll go down there and play a good, complete football game. We’ll need to. (I’m) excited about the opportunity.”
The Wildcats (4-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) will play their final road game of the regular season Saturday at Vanderbilt, which has lost four of its last five games, including a 56-0 shout loss at Florida last weekend. The Commodores (2-7, 1-5) upset Missouri 21-14 on Oct. 19 in Nashville, but have struggled since, losing on the road at South Carolina and Florida, respectively. Vandy has been outscored 80-7 since returning from a bye week following the win over the Tigers.
The Wildcats have won four of the last five games against the Commodores, including three straight. Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 14-7 a year ago at Kroger Field. Stoops said past successes won’t matter.
“I know Coach (Derek) Mason is going through a hard time right now, and again, just like all of us in the league, there’s no mercy, look around the league, its hard on all of us. But you know they are going to be well-coached, tremendous running back in (Ke’Shawn) Vaughn very much build an offense around him,” Stoops said. “He can hurt you running the ball and also in receiving, you’ve seen him make some extremely explosive plays in the screen game, talented tight end and wide receiver. “
Stoops wasn’t surprised by Vandy’s win over Missouri which came after the Commodores lost five of their first six games of the season.
“They are going to play extremely hard and look what they did,” he said. “I think they shocked everybody a few weeks back when Missouri was rolling, and rolling darn good, and Vandy goes in there and plays exceptionally well, so its every week. You better concentrate on yourself and get ready to play, because you expect a very hard fought game from them.”
Although the Commodores aren’t in contention for a bowl berth, Stoops said he’s more concerned about his own team’s frame of mind going into the contest between the two Eastern division rivals.
“It’s about us, it’s about execution and doing these little things,” he said. “You’ve seen the games, it’s not lip service, it comes down to several plays in every game whether you make them or not. Even if you go back to the Missouri game you really feel like we pulled away from that game, but it really comes back to a couple of big plays that got to that point, that was able to stretch it out a little bit, so you always have to expect to be prepared for a tight game and to make the plays when it matters.”
Mason said his team’s main concern is Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden, who is expected to make his fifth straight start in the pocket. Bowden leads the league with an average of 145.9 all-purpose yards per game. In his first four starts art quarterback, Bowden is rushing for an average of 153.3 yards per contest.
“We all know what Randall Cobb could do with the ball in his hands,” Mason said. “That’s sort of what you have to keep in mind and that’s what I talked to the defense about – understanding that (Bowden) can make a play from any point on the field.”
Mason added the key will be keeping Kentucky’s offense grounded.
“Defensively we have to find ways to get them off the field,” Mason said. “Every possession is four-down opportunities. Defensively we have to find ways to get behind the chains.”
Although favored, Stoops is expecting another close game Saturday in Music City.
“I know Derek and his pride, the pride in that program and I know him he’s going to coach extremely hard and have them ready to play,” he said. “(I) expect nothing less going in there.”
* * *
Gametracker: Kentucky at Vandy, 3:30 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.