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Kentucky 45, Vanderbilt 28: It’s the turnovers, stupid

On the ongoing problem with Vanderbilt football.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Box Score

Five Factors Vanderbilt Kentucky
Five Factors Vanderbilt Kentucky
Plays 74 58
Total Yards 328 367
Yards Per Play 4.43 6.33
Rushing Attempts 26 28
Rushing Yards 99 166
Rushing YPP 3.81 5.93
Passing Attempts 48 30
Passing Yards 229 201
Passing YPP 4.77 6.70
Rushing Success Rate 50.00% 42.86%
Passing Success Rate 31.25% 33.33%
Success Rate 37.84% 37.93%
Avg. Field Position 30.7 27.8
PP40 5.60 5.17
Turnovers 3 2

If you’re looking at that box score and thinking “That doesn’t look like the box score of a game that Vanderbilt lost 45-28,” well, you would be right.

Vanderbilt and Kentucky were basically tied in success rate; Kentucky’s offense got a few more big plays, with 13 plays of 12 yards or more (and six of 20 or more) to Vanderbilt’s six and four, respectively. The real difference, though: Vanderbilt committed three turnovers that led to 21 points for Kentucky, with two pick sixes and a third interception that was returned to the Vanderbilt 11 and punched in four a touchdown four plays later. Kentucky, meanwhile, committed two turnovers, but one of those was a deep ball that got intercepted at the Vanderbilt 7, and the Wildcat defense held Vanderbilt to a field goal on the other.

Which, yeah: that’s been an ongoing problem for this team.

It’s a bit reductive to say “take away AJ Swann’s three interceptions, and Vanderbilt beats Kentucky.” I think it’s probably extremely fair to think that Vanderbilt would have beaten UNLV without a bunch of turnovers. Over the past three games, Vanderbilt has coughed it up ten times — and Vanderbilt is not a team that can afford to give the ball away and still hope to win.

The turnovers themselves aren’t bad luck, but what’s happening after the turnovers probably is. A 245-pound linebacker intercepting a pass at his own 30 and then tossing it to a nearby DB, who then returns it 50 yards (and gets ten yards tacked on at the end by a personal foul completely away from the play)? Yeah, that’s bad luck. Again, it’s way too reductive to suggest that Vanderbilt has merely gotten unlucky — this is, after all, not a very good team to start with — but you’re not taking crazy pills if you think this team could be 4-1 (1-0 SEC) right now.

I am really not sure what to do with that information, by the way.

Individual 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
AJ Swann 16 40 40.00% 189 0 3 1 2 187 29.27% 4.6
Ken Seals 4 7 57.14% 42 1 0 0 0 42 42.86% 6.0

Yeah, there’s really no way to spin that game from AJ Swann. He was quite likely playing hurt, which didn’t help matters — as it didn’t help matters when Ken Seals tried to do that in 2021 — but... whew, that’s a brutal stat line. I will not be surprised if Seals starts on Saturday against Missouri, with Swann’s elbow the reason given.

As far as the longer term, though, let’s just say that the coaching staff is committed to Swann, for better or worse. If they thought they needed a replacement, there would have been an effort put in to bring one in over the offseason.


Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Patrick Smith 12 36 3 1 33.33%
Sedrick Alexander 8 37 4.625 1 62.50%
AJ Swann 4 13 3.25 0 50.00%
Jayden McGowan 1 7 7 0 100.00%
Chase Gillespie 1 6 6 0 100.00%

Aside from the small number of rushing attempts, the most noteworthy thing here is that the three-headed running back room is basically down to two, with Gillespie only getting a single carry on the final drive of the game, and it’s still not entirely clear why Smith is getting more carries than Alexander.


Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Success Rate
Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Success Rate
Will Sheppard 10 2 31 0 20.00% 3.1 15.5 2 20.00%
London Humphreys 7 3 33 0 42.86% 4.7 11.0 3 42.86%
Patrick Smith 4 1 1 0 25.00% 0.3 1.0 0 0.00%
Jayden McGowan 4 0 0 0 0.00% 0.0 #DIV/0! 0 0.00%
Logan Kyle 3 3 37 0 100.00% 12.3 12.3 2 66.67%
Gamarion Carter 3 2 48 0 66.67% 16.0 24.0 2 66.67%
Justin Ball 3 2 21 0 66.67% 7.0 10.5 1 33.33%
Quincy Skinner 3 2 20 0 66.67% 6.7 10.0 1 33.33%
Kamrean Johnson 2 2 19 1 100.00% 9.5 9.5 2 100.00%
Sedrick Alexander 2 1 11 0 50.00% 5.5 11.0 1 50.00%
Chase Gillespie 1 1 7 0 100.00% 7.0 7.0 1 100.00%
Junior Sherrill 1 1 3 0 100.00% 3.0 3.0 0 0.00%

Given the overall struggles in the passing game and the fact that I don’t remember any drops, I’m willing to chalk up “ten targets, two catches” by Will Sheppard as being Not Will Sheppard’s Fault. (It is, of course, always impossible to tell from a play-by-play how catchable the balls directed at Sheppard were, and sometimes a ball may be so poorly thrown that it’s hard to know who it was intended for. It would not surprise me if the scorekeeper just puts “Sheppard” as who was targeted on an errant deep ball because that’s just a reasonable assumption.)


So at the very least, things are being shaken up a bit on defense: Marlen Sewell was the team’s leading tackler with nine, and true freshman Bryan Longwell was third on the team with five tackles. In fact, of the ten players with two or more tackles, six of them are first- or second-year players (Longwell, Martel Hight, Yilanan Outtara, Trudell Berry, BJ Diakite, Bradley Mann.) Granted, some of that was more or less forced on them, with BJ Anderson missing the game again due to injury and Jaylen Mahoney getting tossed early in the game after a targeting penalty. Hight, Berry, Outtara, and Darren Agu each had a pass breakup; Outtara and Agu combined on a sack.

Remember that the defense basically held Kentucky to 24 points, enough to win the game — 14 points came directly off turnovers and I’m not going to hold it against them that they allowed a touchdown when Kentucky started a drive at the Vanderbilt 11.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt hosts Missouri on Saturday at 3 PM CT on the SEC Network. Missouri is 4-0 after beating Memphis last week.