Kentucky, Vanderbilt each look to get to 3-3 on the season
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky looks to get even on many fronts against Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats (2-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) get another crack at reaching .500 and aim to finish the deal on Saturday against the Commodores (2-3, 0-2 SEC) after missing opportunities to do so last November in Nashville. That 21-17 loss - in which Vanderbilt made two goal-line defensive stands and scored a trick-play touchdown - was one of six defeats in seven contests down the stretch that cost Kentucky a chance to become bowl eligible.
Wildcats coach Mark Stoops acknowledged Monday that the defeat would ''bother'' him for the rest of his life but quickly added that this is a new season. Getting halfway toward a postseason berth could help lessen some bad memories.
''That game last year really hurt the team a lot,'' Kentucky defensive end/linebacker Denzil Ware said. ''We really want this win.''
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt seeks its first SEC win.
The Commodores had their chances last week against then-No. 23 Florida, outgaining the Gators 265-236. But two turnovers and two sacks culminated in a 13-6 loss, their latest in a recent string of close defeats against Florida.
Narrow losses have been the story for Vandy in SEC play this season, a trend the Commodores hope to end against Kentucky and provide their first league road win since 2013.
''It just lets us know that we're there,'' Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said of his team, which has lost by nine combined points. ''This team hasn't been jaded at all. ... I believe that this group fully expects to play well this weekend.''
Other things to watch as Vanderbilt and Kentucky look to get into the win column:
DEFENSIVE PROGRESS: Despite yielding 488 yards in last week's 34-6 loss at No. 1 Alabama, Kentucky took heart in holding the Crimson Tide to a season-low in points (a fumble was returned for one score) and keeping an opponent below 500 yards for a second straight game. Though the Wildcats still rank last in the SEC at 468 yards allowed per game, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot saw hope in making the nation's top team work harder than expected. ''The more pressure situations you can put them in, the better they'll perform,'' he said.
RUNNING BACK MATCHUP: The game pits two of the SEC's top-five rushers in Vanderbilt junior Ralph Webb - whose 582 yards lead the conference - and Kentucky's Stanley ''Boom'' Williams (486). Both backs broke 100 yards last year in Nashville and figure to play key roles again on Saturday. Webb rushed for 110 yards against Florida, while Williams seeks to rebound from running nine times for just 22 yards at Alabama.
BALL PROTECTION: Kentucky's minus-7 turnover margin ranks last in the SEC and last week's loss typified the Wildcats struggles. Quarterback Stephen Johnson fumbled three times while being sacked and lost two of them, with Alabama returning one 55 yards for a touchdown. Stoops believes that Johnson ''will bounce back and put ball-security issues behind him,'' which is necessary against a Vandy squad that's plus-3 with six fumble recoveries.
VISORED UP: Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur will wear a shield on his helmet after being poked in the right eye in last week's loss to Florida. Shurmur, whose eye remained red Tuesday, tried to argue his way back onto the field against the Gators. Shurmur has thrown for 696 yards with three TDs and three interceptions this season. ''His sight is good, just for protective purposes we're putting a shield on him just so it doesn't happen again,'' Mason said.
AP College Football: collegefootball.ap.org
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AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.