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Vanderbilt 24, Kentucky 21: Finally, a win

Clark Lea gets his first SEC win after 13 tries.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Box Score

Five Factors Vanderbilt Kentucky
Five Factors Vanderbilt Kentucky
Plays 67 54
Total Yards 450 322
Yards Per Play 6.72 5.96
Rushing Attempts 44 27
Rushing Yards 275 236
Rushing YPP 6.25 8.74
Passing Attempts 23 27
Passing Yards 175 86
Passing YPP 7.61 3.19
Rushing Success Rate 34.09% 48.15%
Passing Success Rate 43.48% 25.93%
Success Rate 37.31% 37.04%
Avg. Field Position 23.3 31.8
PP40 3.43 3.50
Turnovers 2 1

When I say that Clark Lea needed a win — if not Saturday, then in one of the last three games — I certainly don’t mean that he needed a win to keep his job; obviously, Lea is not getting fired after this season, and probably isn’t going to get fired after next season, either.

But after the last two games, losses to Missouri and South Carolina, and even after the three-game stretch that saw Vanderbilt get drilled by the trio of Alabama, Ole Miss, and Georgia, Lea was at risk of losing buy-in from fans and recruits. Sure, this is a massive build — Vanderbilt entered Saturday’s game on a 26-game SEC losing streak, and the first 13 of those came even before Clark Lea was the head coach. But we’ve seen enough of these to know that these don’t always work.

And, of course, part of the difference between Lea and Woody Widenhofer or Bobby Johnson or Derek Mason was that there weren’t any easy wins to be had. Widenhofer went 1-15 in the SEC his first two seasons; the one win came against a South Carolina team that was on its way to a 1-10 record. Johnson would pick off a 4-8 Kentucky and a 3-8 Mississippi State for his first two SEC wins. Mason would catch 5-7 Missouri and Kentucky teams in his second season, and he still blew a winnable game against a 3-9 South Carolina team.

Instead, after whiffing on two games where he had a chance, Clark Lea went into Lexington and beat a Kentucky team that entered the game ranked in the Top 25 and with a 6-3 record. And if you’re paying attention to the box score above, it wasn’t a fluke, either. The much-maligned Vanderbilt pass defense managed to hold purported first-round draft pick Will Levis to a miserable day, and while the run defense allowed a few big plays, the defense did what it needed to and held Kentucky to four field goal attempts (one of them blocked) when it needed to clamp down. Kentucky also failed on two two-point conversion attempts.

Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt offense managed to generate more scoring chances than Kentucky did, and keep in mind that one of Kentucky’s scoring chances was gifted to them by a Vanderbilt turnover. The Commodores weren’t perfect — three of their seven scoring chances came up empty, after all, with Mike Wright throwing an interception on a deep ball and two failed fourth-down conversions — but they managed to do just enough and came up huge on the game’s final drive.

In short, Vanderbilt not only went on the road and beat a decent team, they didn’t even have to play a perfect game to do it. Far from it, in fact. This win was a big deal for the program.

Individual Stats

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
Mike Wright 12 23 52.17% 184 1 1 1 1 183 41.67% 7.6

Rushing Stats

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ray Davis 26 119 4.576923077 1 34.62%
Mike Wright 10 127 12.7 1 60.00%
Patrick Smith 5 5 1 0 0.00%
Jayden McGowan 2 6 3 0 0.00%

In many ways, this was the Mike Wright Show, but Kentucky’s inability to contain Ray Davis was a big factor here as well. I wrote a few weeks ago that a lot of the difference in the effectiveness of the Vanderbilt offense can be explained by Davis going from a consistent three-to-four yard back to a consistent one-to-two yard back, and here he was back to being mostly good for 3-4 yards every time. And that did make a big difference. And hell, he broke one for 45 yards to set up the second touchdown early in the second half.

I’ll point out, too, that it made a big difference that Vanderbilt spent most of the game playing from ahead; that meant that the Commodores didn’t really have to try to do too much in the passing game. With the (technically) backup quarterback playing in miserable weather, it was good that Vanderbilt could just Run The Damn Ball all day until the last drive.

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
Will Sheppard 10 5 88 1 50.00% 8.8 17.6 50.00%
Quincy Skinner 5 3 55 0 60.00% 11.0 18.3 40.00%
Ben Bresnahan 3 2 26 0 66.67% 8.7 13.0 66.67%
Patrick Smith 1 1 14 0 100.00% 14.0 14.0 100.00%
Ray Davis 1 1 1 0 100.00% 1.0 1.0 0.00%
Jayden McGowan 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0.0 #DIV/0! 0.00%

Will Sheppard and Quincy Skinner made the plays when they needed to, and Ben Bresnahan had a couple of nice catches as well.


Big day for C.J. Taylor, who led the team with six tackles, and also had a sack and an interception (on the final play of the game.) In total, the defense got to Will Levis four times and also had two QB hurries and six pass breakups (with only three of those coming from defensive backs.) Something I guess I should point out is that the defensive backs looked a lot better when the defensive front was getting consistent pressure. Funny, that.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt hosts Florida at 11 AM CT on Saturday on the SEC Network. At this point, a win over Florida or Tennessee would just be gravy.