Kentucky visits Vanderbilt already bowl eligible, wants more
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Kentucky can’t help but wonder what might have been this year.
If not for a pair of close losses, the Wildcats could be 8-1.
“You can’t always say you are a play or two away,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “I know that’s not good enough, I know we want more.”
They hope they can get more Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Kentucky (6-3, 3-3) enters the game already bowl eligible and third in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division behind No. 2 Georgia and South Carolina after a 37-34 loss to Mississippi last week.
Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-5) finds itself tied for last in the East with Tennessee looking for its first SEC win. The Commodores need to win two of its last three to be sure of a second straight bowl berth. The Commodores at least snapped a five-game skid last week with a 31-17 win over Western Kentucky.
Some things to know about Kentucky and Vanderbilt:
WINLESS IN SEC: The Commodores are still searching for their first SEC win after falling to top-ranked Alabama , Florida , No. 2 Georgia , Ole Miss and South Carolina . Vanderbilt allowed an average of 46.6 points in those games and now rank 11th in the SEC in scoring defense (29.2). “Every week, what you try to do is get better,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “You have a different feel when you play at home. What we have to do is make sure momentum, ebb and flow, turn our way and stay in our favor.”
DEFENSE NEEDED: Kentucky’s pass defense is motivated to rebound from last week’s loss to Mississippi in which Rebel receivers were frequently open, particularly on the last-second touchdown drive. Known for building strong secondaries at previous coaching stops, Stoops said he’s taking that unit’s struggles somewhat personally and is stressing improvement. “There were a few big plays that hit you for touchdowns, which are hard to overcome,” Stoops said. “We need to play those better.”
SELECT COMPANY: Ralph Webb needs 44 rushing yards to pass Florida’s Emmitt Smith and join the top 10 in SEC history. “When I decided to make him a starter his freshman year, it was a new coach and a new running back, and really, nobody knew much about him,” Mason said. “Just to see how he’s had to endure through so many injuries, like this year, has been what you want from a senior running back.”
SNELL ROLLING: Kentucky sophomore running back Benny Snell has rushed for 356 yards and six TDs the past two games, including 176 and three scores against Ole Miss. He is 103 yards away from becoming the first Wildcat to rush for 1,000 in consecutive seasons, and he’s proving durability after carrying nine times for 77 yards on the go-ahead TD. “No matter what, whether I’m feeling dog tired or got just a little bit of energy, I don’t want to be out of the game,” Snell said.
WRIGHT STUFF: Vanderbilt linebacker Charles Wright is tied with Auburn’s Jeff Holland for the SEC sack lead with eight apiece. “It would mean a lot (to finish as the sack leader), but I really just want to go to a bowl game and send these seniors out the right way,” Wright said.
NEW PUNTER: Sophomore Grant McKinniss will punt for the Wildcats in place of Matt Panton, who was suspended Monday following last weekend’s arrest in Lexington for public intoxication. McKinniss averaged 39.2 yards per kick as Kentucky’s starter last season, but was scheduled to redshirt this year after Panton arrived as a graduate transfer.
AP Sports Writer Gary Graves contributed to this report.
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