Kentucky outmuscles Vanderbilt 44-21 in demoralizing late-season game

Photo by Bruce Brookshire.

The Vanderbilt Commodores suffered their sixth loss of the season on Saturday afternoon, a tough 44-21 beatdown at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. ran for 116 yards and three touchdowns on the day. Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw four interceptions, more than his total from the previous nine games this season, but did throw for 308 yards and had two total touchdowns.

Overall, head coach Derek Mason was extremely displeased with his team’s performance.

“I’m pissed, I’m mad, I’m angry, and it starts with me,” he said. “I’m mad at myself, but I talked to this group about expectations. We’ve got to get it right. We’ve got to get it right and we’ve got to get it right now. I can live with your best. That wasn’t your best.”

Both teams traded turnovers early on before the Commodores broke open the scoring. Ralph Webb took a third-and-two run from Kentucky territory all the way to the house to give the Commodores the early 7-0 lead. It was a classic Webb run, burning the Wildcats with his game-breaking speed.

Vanderbilt had the chance to carry all the momentum on a third-and-seven for Kentucky around midfield. But, a busted coverage by Ryan White allowed Kentucky to keep the drive going, and on the next play, Sihiem King ran untouched over the line to tie the game.

Vanderbilt kept seeing their offensive drives stall as the half rolled on. Kentucky continued to press on, and Benny Snell Jr. broke about five tackles and got into the end zone to give Kentucky a 14-7 lead.

A common theme of the half was Vanderbilt’s inability to get out of their own way, and in some instances, quite literally. The Commodores had a couple of big runs get cut short after just nine yards when the runner ran into his own blockers. Then, on their next series, Kyle Shurmur threw a deep interception that was returned all the way to the edge of the red zone.

Mason lamented the way his offense let drives stall.

“We did some things in the second half offensively, but again, killing ourselves with drives that end in turnovers,” he said. “Just not being able to stay on the field. It was just a comedy of errors. Not very good football.”

The Commodores were lucky to just concede three points off of the turnover, as some strong defensive plays kept Kentucky from smelling the end zone. However, Shurmur’s third pick of the day off the hands of receiver C.J. Duncan gave the ball right back to Kentucky. The Wildcats added a field goal to put them up 20-7 at the half.

Shurmur took complete blame for the interceptions in this one, blaming “bad quarterback play. That’s it.”

Vanderbilt had the chance to set the tempo on defense early in the half, and on a third down pass from the Kentucky 42, Vanderbilt forced a fumble that got booted all the way down the sideline to the one yard line where it was recovered by Kentucky, setting up an easy Snell touchdown run.

Mason said his team didn’t get the bounces they needed in this one, having missed out on a few fumbles.

“We talked about what this game had to be, and it was anything but that,” he said. “Last week, we got some bounces to go our way. This week, we got one. They had the ball on the ground three times and we came up with one. We were there all three times. It’s hard when you turn the ball over and you can’t keep up in a turnover margin.”

Vanderbilt’s defense continued to display an inability to tackle, especially in the secondary. A 32-yard pass to Juice Johnson set up another untouched King touchdown run, putting the game far out of reach.

A Shurmur touchdown run late in the third quarter gave Vanderbilt the slimmest bit of hope, but a 93-yard kickoff return by Lynn Bowden Jr. followed by yet another Snell touchdown put the kibosh on any comeback chances.

Kalija Lipscomb continued to show off his incredible athleticism and speed with a touchdown catch-and-run as the third quarter ended.

With the loss, Vanderbilt falls to 4-6 and will need two wins in their final two games to clinch bowl eligibility.

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