There was a pep in Kentucky’s step as the Wildcats made their way down Vanderbilt’s field during their third drive of the game Saturday afternoon.
Back from injury, sophomore running back Boom Williams had just rushed for 38 yards to put the Wildcats on the Vanderbilt 1-yard line. A 3-0 lead was inches away from becoming 10-0.
But this became the first of two goal-line meltdowns for Kentucky in its 21-17 loss. The Wildcats were stopped on the 1-yard line, left stunned they couldn’t pick up a matter of inches for a score.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has maintained all year that he’s not one to place blame on others or point fingers. But when the Wildcats made it to the 1-yard line and decided to throw instead of run on second down, Stoops was left with questions.
“I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but I was frustrated we were throwing the ball on second down,” Stoops said during his Monday press conference. “In hindsight, I would have told (offensive coordinator) Shannon (Dawson), run the ball three downs in a row. Or four downs in a row: Pound it, pound it, pound it, because we were very close on third down to squirting it through there and fourth down we were so close we wanted to sneak but it didn’t work.
“That same play we ran on third down, if we run it four plays in a row, we definitely score.”
Deja vu struck in the second quarter, when the Wildcats made it to the 3-yard line only for junior quarterback Patrick Towles to throw an interception that halted their scoring plans yet again.
Stoops couldn’t get the two missed opportunities out of his head.
“In a nutshell, when you have the ball first-and-goal and get zero — really from about six to eight inches away — that was the start of a night that was very frustrating for all of us,” he said. “Not getting that ball in the end zone and then the second opportunity get it on the 2 or 3 and then again come up with nothing, it’s very difficult.”
Now Stoops and his offense have a week to continue working out the kinks. Miscues like that can’t happen against Charlotte or Louisville if the Wildcats are going to become bowl eligible. They must win both games to do so.
“You’re always upset about the missed opportunities. That stays with you for a long time. That’s still there. We’ve been working hard on trying to be good in critical situations like fourth down and third-and-shorts and all those things,” Stoops said. “We’ve even put another period in practice the past couple weeks to just work on critical situations. So many times you could play well just like this past week — where we did so many good things — and the game comes down to a couple critical situations that you don’t execute and you don’t win.
“We need to make those plays. And we will.”