Four Downs: What we learned from Mark Stoops' Monday press luncheon

Four things we learned from Mark Stoops' weekly press luncheon on Monday in advance of the Vanderbilt game.

1. Stoops Hasn't Gotten Over Last Year's Loss

Kentucky appeared to be in great shape to reach its first bowl game under Mark Stoops when the Cats entered last year's matchup against Vanderbilt team with four wins under their belts and an all-but-guaranteed victory the following week against Charlotte that would have secured a bid. Instead, UK left Nashville with a devastating 21-17 loss that ultimately wrecked the Cats' season. Kentucky would also blow a 21-point lead against arch-rival Louisville in the season finale, but that one was easier to swallow given the individual greatness displayed by Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Vandy loss is a wound that still hasn't completely healed. “I never single anybody out, but does last year’s Vanderbilt game hurt? Absolutely," Stoops said on Monday. "It bothers me and will probably bother me the rest of my life. But this is a total new year.” 

2. Commodores Have Defensive Maturity

Many Kentucky fans see Vandy play Florida to a 13-7 loss last weekend in Nashville, and the immediate question arises, "How do they manage to play solid defense when we can't?" Alas, the Cats gave up 45 points to the Gators in their Sept. 10 loss at The Swamp. Stoops gave part of the answer Monday. The Dores have 12 juniors and seniors on their two-deep defensive depth chart, compared to 12 freshmen and sophomores on the UK two-deep. It shows. The Vandy unit currently ranks well ahead of the Cats in just about every category on the updated SEC statistics. Most notably, Vandy is allowing only 23.6 points per game, compared to 35.0 by UK. "They’ve got some very big guys in the front of their defense," Stoops said. "What sticks out to you, too, when you think about Vandy on defense, is how mature they are. I believe they have five fifth-year seniors starting and five fourth-year juniors starting and two juniors, so that’s a pretty veteran group. The two big boys inside are big guys with some experience.”

3. Dorian Baker Ready for Season Debut

The Cats' most physical presence at wide receiver, 6-foot-3, 208-pound junior Dorian Baker, may be ready to make his season debut after recovering from a hamstring injury dating back to preseason camp. Baker has been missed, both for his playmaking ability and physical blocking on the edges. He's listed No. 2 on the depth chart this week behind redshirt freshman Tavin Richardson, who had a decent game at Alabama with two catches for 24 yards. “I do expect Dorian back at full strength this week," Stoops said. "He’s been very close, just wasn’t able to practice all week last week and get the reps, but I think he should be out there 100 percent and ready to go today.”  Baker entered the season as UK's leading returning receiver with 55 catches for 608 yards and three touchdowns last year.

4. Staff Preaching Turnover Margin

Kentucky enters this matchup dead last in the SEC in turnover margin at minus-7 after quarterback Stephen Johnson coughed the ball up twice at Alabama, negating two drives into Crimson Tide territory. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is tied for third in the league at plus-3. If those trends carry over to Saturday's game, the Cats will be in trouble, Stoops said. "This game, the big determining factor will be turnovers. Vandy has done a nice job with that. They’re giving up yards but have done a nice job with turnovers. They’re ahead in turnover ratio and we’re last in the league at negative-seven. We stress it and coach it. If you turn it over and not play good defense, that’s a recipe to get beat by anyone." In last year's game at Vandy, the Cats threw two interceptions (one returned 30 yards by Oren Burks for a VU touchdown) and lost a fumble.

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