Both UK’s Mark Stoops and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason will be seeking their first SEC wins as a head coach. The Wildcats will also be seeking their first win over the Commodores in four years and their first win in league play since November 2011, a span of 17 games.
“It's important, it sure is,” Stoops said Monday during his weekly press luncheon. “We'd sure like to get one, that's for sure. We work extremely hard each week to go out and put ourselves in a position to win.”
Kentucky (2-1, 0-1 SEC) came extremely close to crossing off a couple of those to-do items in its last game, a 36-30 triple-overtime loss at Florida on Sept. 13. Stoops says he likes how his players have responded on the practice field during an open date on the schedule.
“As I said after the last game, I was proud of the effort,” he said. “I felt like if we keep on giving ourselves chances like that to win, then we'll get some wins.
Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2 SEC) has gotten off to a rough start under its new head coach, but has shown signs of improvement in each of the last two weeks. The Commodores lost their first two games of the season by a combined score of 78-10, but rallied from behind to beat UMass 34-31 on Sept. 13 and gave South Carolina a strong challenge last week before falling 48-34.
“(Vanderbilt) played very well,” Stoops said of the Dores matchup with the Gamecocks. “Their excitement, you could see that. They were playing extremely hard. You could see they're a team that's building each week. A few new wrinkles. Fundamentally getting better. They do some good things. Very well coached.
“We’ll have to play better.”
For the first time in a long time, UK will enter an SEC game in the favorite’s role. Stoops says he doesn’t want his team thinking in those terms.
“(We) certainly need to be a team that's very hungry,” he said. “I think our team has played that way this year. We need to stay that way.”
Kentucky should have some additional incentive for Saturday's game at Commonwealth Stadium. The Commodores' three-game winning streak over the Cats has come by a combined score of 100-14, including a 40-0 blowout the last time Vandy came to Lexington.
Last year's game in Nashville, a more competitive 22-6 outcome, included a late touchdown tacked on by the Commodores that led to a chilly postgame handshake betweeen Stoops and then-Vandy head coach James Franklin, who is now at Penn State.