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Kentucky 34, Vanderbilt 17: Honestly, the quarterback controversy should be settled

Mike Wright looked better than Ken Seals, and I don’t know how you avoid the obvious here.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Kentucky at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Box Score

Five Factors Vanderbilt Kentucky
Five Factors Vanderbilt Kentucky
Plays 59 56
Total Yards 266 416
Yards Per Play 4.5 7.4
Rushing Attempts 26 34
Rushing Yards 120 247
Rushing YPP 4.6 7.3
Passing Attempts 33 22
Passing Yards 146 169
Passing YPP 4.4 7.7
Rushing Success Rate 30.80% 55.90%
Passing Success Rate 36.40% 54.50%
Success Rate 33.90% 55.40%
Avg. Field Position 23.6 31.8
PP40 5.67 5.4
Turnovers 1 1

Tennessean: Poor first half leads Vanderbilt to 34-17 loss against Kentucky

Lexington Herald Leader: Kentucky football improves to 7-3 with win at Vanderbilt

AP: Levis Helps Kentucky Jump Out Early, Beat Vanderbilt 34-17

There’s not really much new material about this team: they’re bad, there’s an ongoing debate about whether they should be better (personally, I predict that my main takeaway from the 2021 season is going to be “how the hell did this team win two games?!” more than anything, because I’ve watched this team play football all season and I am shocked that this team will not go 1-11 or 0-12.)

I also think, and this is going to offend some people, that anybody who claims to know that Clark Lea is not going to work out based on this season is more interested in being able to tell people seven years after the fact that they “knew” he wasn’t the guy based on the ETSU game alone than they are in accurate analysis. No, you don’t know that, but you’re more likely than not going to be right simply because the majority of coaching hires don’t work.

Anyway, this game wasn’t close, even if Vanderbilt came back in the second half to make the final score respectable. (More on that in a bit.) The margins in yards per play (7.4 to 4.5) and success rate (55.4% to 33.9%) were both heavily in Kentucky’s favor, and that was even with the second half factored in. I’m not going to bother finding out what those margins looked like in the first half (Kentucky led this game 31-3 at halftime) but they were probably hideous. The field position margin was deadly, too, though Kentucky’s is inflated a bit by taking over at the Vanderbilt 36 after a failed fourth-down conversion late in the game. (It’s also brought down a bit by an interception in Vanderbilt territory not being counted because the offense never actually started a drive.) Turnovers were 1-1, but that’s not really an accurate assessment of things: Ken Seals threw a pick six deep in Vanderbilt’s own territory; Will Levis threw an interception in the end zone on the final play of the first half. Vanderbilt’s turnover gave Kentucky seven points; Kentucky’s turnover was effectively an incomplete pass.

As for finishing drives, Vanderbilt did hold Kentucky to field goals on its last two scoring opportunities (note: I’m not counting Kentucky’s final drive, which ended with a kneeldown), but couldn’t get a stop while the game was still in doubt. And the Vanderbilt offense only generated three scoring chances; that they made the most of them is good, but generating scoring chances has been a much bigger issue than finishing drives this season.

Passing Stats

Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Ken Seals 12 17 70.60% 87 0 1 3 21 66 25.00% 3.3
Mike Wright 7 11 63.60% 58 2 0 1 3 55 50.00% 4.6
Cam Johnson 1 1 100.00% 25 0 0 0 0 25 100.00% 25

At this point, I don’t really have a good argument for playing Ken Seals over Mike Wright, a debate that might be moot anyway if Seals is injured again (Clark Lea seemed to indicate that he’d be back for the second half if he could go, and then he wasn’t seen at all.) In addition to bringing a running threat, on the season Mike Wright now actually has a better passer rating (120.8 to 100.9) and, well, that’s kind of important when the main argument for Seals was that he was a better passer. Last night, Seals posted a good completion percentage but it was the kind of empty completion percentage that’s padded by a bunch of underneath routes that end up going nowhere; it’s not good when your quarterback is averaging 3.3 yards per dropback, and it’s even worse when that’s about the only thing he’s bringing to the table. Previously, the argument was that Wright had a lower floor (see: the Mississippi State game), but even that argument seems to be out the window; Seals’ floor appears to be pretty low right now as well. And last night, you didn’t even have the excuse that Wright was playing a defense that wasn’t prepared to face him; he’d started the previous three games.

Also, somehow I simply don’t even remember Cam Johnson attempting a pass.

Rushing Stats

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Success Rate
Patrick Smith 18 84 4.7 0 4 22.20%
Mike Wright 6 23 3.8 0 2 33.30%
James Ziglor III 2 13 6.5 0 1 50.00%

The other story of this season is that thanks to injuries to Re’Mahn Davis and Rocko Griffin (the latter of whom was reportedly healthy for this game, but didn’t play), Vanderbilt has spent a chunk of the season relying on a pair of true freshmen at running back, one of whom was recruited to play defensive back. I like what I’ve seen from Patrick Smith this season in terms of big-play potential, but Vanderbilt really needs a between-the-tackles guy (like, well, Davis) to balance him out. I don’t think Ziglor will be playing running back beyond this season.

Receiving Stats

Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Amir Abdur-Rahman 9 7 65 1 77.80% 7.2 9.3 66.70%
Chris Pierce 6 6 69 1 100.00% 11.5 11.5 83.30%
Patrick Smith 4 3 9 0 75.00% 2.3 3 0.00%
Ben Bresnahan 2 1 11 0 50.00% 5.5 11 0.00%
Cam Johnson 2 1 7 0 50.00% 3.5 7 0.00%
James Ziglor III 2 1 5 0 50.00% 2.5 5 50.00%
Devin Boddie 2 1 4 0 50.00% 2 4 0.00%

I’m going to miss Chris Pierce. This was his senior night, and in addition to six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, he also had an interception — playing defensive back on the Hail Mary to end the first half.

Meanwhile, with Will Sheppard out, Amir Abdur-Rahman got his first significant action at receiver this season and he did... that. Just what the hell was the coaching staff doing before that?

Defense

  • Somehow, Gabe Jeudy was Vanderbilt’s leading tackler with 8, and that’s not something I remember happening before. He was followed by Max Worship with 6, and Ethan Barr and Christian James had five each. Quiet night for Anfernee Orji, who had just two tackles.
  • Malik Langham got his first career sack. Elijah McAllister and Michael Owusu also had tackles for loss, and Worship and James combined for one. Allan George had two pass breakups.
  • Vanderbilt’s defense wasn’t credited with a single quarterback hurry, though I guess the sack counts, but, well, when you’re not getting pressure on the quarterback...

Notes

  • Delfin Xavier Castillo started his third consecutive game on the offensive line in place of Ben Cox, who I assume is injured. He’s now played in four games and it will be interesting to see if the coaching staff opts to sit him for the next two to preserve a redshirt, even if Cox is still out.
  • Then again, this coaching staff hasn’t seemed too terribly concerned about it, with (by my count) seven true freshmen having already played in more than four games, and only Patrick Smith and James Ziglor have really seen significant action out of that group.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt travels to Ole Miss on Saturday; game time is 6:30 PM CT on the SEC Network. Ole Miss is 8-2 this season and, well, that’s probably going to go poorly for us.