The Big Blue Nation was shocked. Kentucky struggled on a cold, soggy day at Kroger Field, but Chris Rodriguez delivered what appeared to be a knockout blow, scoring a 72-yard go-ahead touchdown with five minutes to play. All the Cats needed was one stop. They could not deliver. Will Sheppard caught an 8-yard pass in the corner of the end zone with 32 seconds on the clock to give Vanderbilt its first win over Kentucky since 2015.
While Mark Stoops will be the first to tell you that each team is different every year, there’s no denying that Kentucky wants to provide a little payback when they take on the Commodores this Saturday in Nashville.
“I think I hate losing more than I love winning,” Deone Walker said Wednesday night. “After a loss, you just think about that one play where you could’ve tried harder. What’s that one play where I could’ve did more? I could’ve pushed our team, I could’ve boosted our morale a bit. I’m just trying to make sure that I don’t have those thoughts.”
“They beat us. There’s a bad taste in our mouth,” added JJ Weaver. “We got a bad taste, got to come out better. We didn’t play how we wanted to play last year, but that’s on us: missing tackles, missing assignments, not getting a call right. That’s on us.”
That sentiment is shared by his defensive coordinator, Brad White. Kentucky cannot have tunnel vision, but he expects his defense to play with purpose.
“Any loss that you have, if it doesn’t linger or stick with you, maybe I question your competitive nature. The losses should stick with you way more than the wins and I know they do for me. Every time you face an opponent that got the best of you the year before, you should have a little added something,” said White.
“We talk about the feeling of five minutes after a win and how glorious that time is in the locker room. The flip side and the reverse of that is the agony, the pain and the disgust and all of that from a loss, sticks way more than five minutes. The only way to get that taste out of your mouth is to put in the work, show up and we got to find a way to get a win Saturday.”
Kentucky Defensive Front is Eating Double Teams
Kentucky is applying more pressure on the quarterback in 2023, but it’s coming from an unlikely position. Trevin Wallace leads the SEC in sacks (3.5) as an inside linebacker. He’s making the plays because of the pressures dialed up, the coverage on the back end and how opposing offensive lines are blocking the Cats. Deone Walker and JJ Weaver often line up on the same side. Offensive lines are sliding to double team Kentucky’s top rushers, freeing up Wallace to make plays. It can be frustrating at times for the guys in the trenches.
“I’ll always be mad against a double-team because I want to make a play. That’s just the competitor in me,” said Walker. “But I’ve been talking to Coach Stewart, Coach White. ‘Take that as respect. They know who you are. They know what you can do.'”
Those two will not always be used as distractions to take on blockers.
“Coach White’s got some plays in for everybody to play loose, play fast, get off the ball,” said Weaver. “We just got to be disciplined.”
The first signs of it were evident last week when Walker did something he’s never done before the ball is snapped.
“That was my first time ever lining up in a 9-technique (outside the offensive tackle) in a college game. Even the right tackle was like, what’s going on? It’s great to be able to show off my versatility and for Coach White to move me in different places,” Walker said.
White will certainly have plenty of tricks up his sleeve this week against AJ Swann and Vanderbilt’s explosive passing attack.