The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

In this edition of All Wildcats' "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly," we take a look back at Kentucky's 20-13 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium, including another big effort from Benny Snell Jr. (pictured above).


Star Me Kitten ... Kentucky's Benny Snell Jr. may be one of the SEC's biggest recruiting steals in the Class of 2016. The freshman workhorse from Ohio had 20 carries for 94 yards in the win over Vandy, toting the rock eight times on the final drive that produced an important field goal to give the Cats a seven-point advantage. Hence, he's earned the nickname "The Closer" from Big Blue Nation. Despite splitting time with dynamic starter Boom Williams and crafty veteran Jojo Kemp, Snell has 341 rushing yards, is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and ranks among the SEC leaders with five rushing touchdowns. He's become a fan favorite with his relentless running style, and many of his teammates likewise praised him Saturday for bringing extra energy to the offensive unit.  

Stand ... If they were being completely honest, there weren't too many folks in the stands at CWS who thought that game wasn't going to overtime when Vandy picked up a first-and-goal from the UK 8 with under 30 seconds remaining. You can't really blame them. After all, this was not their first rodeo when it comes to such matters. To its credit, the UK defense rose up and kept the Dores out of the end zone on four consecutive pass plays. When it mattered most, five of Vandy's last six pass attempts were incomplete. It was another confidence-building moment for a young unit that keeps getting better as it gains experience. 

Fall On Me ... Don't look now, but the UK defense is developing two of the better young edge rushers in the SEC. Sophomore outside backers Denzil Ware and Josh Allen both had six tackles, two sacks and a quarterback hurry as part of their defensive co-MVP performance. We're at the midpoint of the season and both players rank among the SEC leaders with 4.5 sacks. They've gone through some growing pains, but the future appears to be bright on that side of the ball. UK's top three impact guys -- Ware, Allen and weakside backer Jordan Jones are all sophomores. Imagine how good they could be over the next two years. 


Can't Get There From Here ... The open date on the schedule comes at a great time as Kentucky has two weeks to refine its passing attack before facing Mississippi State in what might be the most important game of the year. The Cats managed only 49 yards passing against the Commodores, and that was coming off an 89-yard performance at Alabama. Junior quarterback Stephen Johnson was 10-of-24 with a long completion of only 15 yards and was intercepted once. The damage could have been much worse as the Vandy defense had their hands around two or three other passes that could have been picked off. An optimist might suggest it's a good sign that UK still found a way to win this game without any downfield passing threat at all; a pessimist might offer the Cats cannot win key upcoming games against Mississippi State and Missouri while passing for less than 100 yards. There's probably some truth in both, but Kentucky has far too much talent at wide receiver and tight end to boast only seven touchdown passes on the season. Amazingly, four of those came in the first 23 minutes of the season opener.

Strange ... For the second time in the last three SEC games, UK found a way to win despite having a negative turnover margin. That's a trend that will be hard to sustain in the second half of the season. The Cats have coughed it up 16 times through six games, an average of almost three per game. They've fumbled nine times (the last two being returned by the opponent for touchdowns) and have been picked off seven times. On the flip side, UK opponents have only turned it over eight times. If you had shown us those numbers before the season and asked to predict what th record would be at the halfway point, it would not be 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the SEC.

What's The Frequency, McKinniss ...  It was not a great day for UK freshman Grant McKinniss, who punted five times for an average of 36.2 yards. Three times in the first half, the Commodores acquired the ball near midfield (VU 47, UK 48, VU 47) on punts. Fortunately, the golden field position on those only cost the Cats three points. Against a better offensive club, those could have proven costly. To McKinniss's credit, he saved his best punt for last as a 44-yard punt pinned Vandy at its own 6 to start a fourth-quarter drive. Like the UK passing game, he'll have to improve to give the Cats a shot to beat Mississippi State on Oct. 22.


It's The End of The Half As We Know It (And I Don't Feel Fine) ...  The Cats are still struggling to close the first half without some major headaches. Kentucky's typically strong kickoff coverage unit let down its guard in the final minute as Vandy took one back 65 yards to the UK 35-yad line. Fortunately, the Cats got away with the special teams gaffe as Tommy Openshaw pushed his 49-yard field goal attempt wide to the left at the buzzer. Had he made the kick, it would have marked the third time this season that UK surrendered points at the end of the first half. Southern Miss and New Mexico State both posted touchdowns with under a minute left on the clock. Kentucky had to endure a scary situation at the end of the second half, too, watching Vandy's poor offense march from its own 28 to the UK 8 in less than a minute.

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