Three takeaways as Kentucky football snaps 3-game losing streak vs. Vanderbilt

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

Kentucky football snapped a three-game losing streak with a 34-17 victory at Vanderbilt Saturday.

The Wildcats scored on each of their first four drives and the defense held Vanderbilt to just 105 yards to take a 31-3 lead into the halftime locker room. The performance was not nearly as dominant in the second half as Vanderbilt offense found success after bringing dual-threat quarterback Mike Wright into the game and outscored Kentucky 14-3 in the second half, but the Wildcats were able to hold on for the win.

Kentucky has now won six straight games over Vanderbilt. The Commodores have lost 19 consecutive SEC games.

Here is what you need to know about the performance.

Kentucky football stars lead the way

A smart recipe for ending a losing streak when facing a struggling opponent is making sure your best players lead the way. Consider that mission accomplished for Kentucky.

Quarterback Will Levis completed 14 of 22 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He completed his first eight passes of the game, and the interception came on a Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the first half.

Running back Chris Rodriguez totaled 114 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries. Wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson, who entered the game tied for the SEC lead in receptions, tallied six catches for 75 yards and one touchdown. 

On defense, captain Josh Paschal recorded seven tackles and two sacks. Senior safety Yusuf Corker led Kentucky with eight tackles.

The key to winning as a heavy favorite is prevent your opponent from gaining confidence early in the game. Kentucky's second-half performance was concerning, but the Wildcats' best players made sure to put this one away early.

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Kentucky clinches second place in SEC East

UK's win combined with Tennessee's loss to No. 1 Georgia earlier in the day clinched second place for the Wildcats in the SEC East.

Kentucky finishes its conference slate with a 5-3 record, recording just the program's second winning record in SEC play since 1977. Mark Stoops has now led Kentucky to 5-3 records in SEC play in two out of the last four years. The Wildcats are 25-25 in SEC games in the last six seasons.

While it is fair to note Kentucky had as favorable a SEC schedule as it ever will this season and its three losses came against the three best teams it faced, the rarity of winning SEC records for the program still makes the 5-3 mark an achievement worth celebrating.

Wins in the final two regular season games against New Mexico State and Louisville and the bowl game would give Kentucky its second 10-win season since 1977, matching the 2018 squad's record.

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Win clinches a contract extension for Mark Stoops

Kentucky's dominant performance gave the Wildcats' their seventh win of the season, triggering an automatic extension clause in Stoops' contract.

Any year the Wildcats win between seven and nine games, Stoops' contract is automatically extended by one year. If Kentucky wins 10 or more games, the contract is extended another year.

Stoops' contract now runs through the 2026 season. The contract pays him a $5 million base salary this year. That salary increases by $250,000 per year. The extension year will pay him a base salary of $6.5 million in the 2026-27 school year.

After coaching UK to a 6-0 start this season, Stoops was in range of more than $2 million in contract bonuses. Kentucky's three-game losing streak eliminated him from contention for most of those incentives, but he could still earn several bonuses if the Wildcats win their remaining two regular season games and bowl game.

Each win starting at No. 9 in a season earns Stoops' a $250,000 bonus. He will also earn a $100,000 bonus when Kentucky is awarded its bowl berth.

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ