Vanderbilt squanders yet another SEC upset bid in 14-7 loss to #14 Kentucky

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Vanderbilt squanders yet another SEC upset bid in 14-7 loss to #14 Kentucky

Vanderbilt WR C.J. Bolar catches a touchdown against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field in Lexington, KY.

Vanderbilt WR C.J. Bolar catches a touchdown against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field in Lexington, KY.

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Vanderbilt WR C.J. Bolar catches a touchdown against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field in Lexington, KY.

Claire

Claire

Vanderbilt WR C.J. Bolar catches a touchdown against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field in Lexington, KY.

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — It’s the same script in a different zip code.

After putting up a good performance in the first half, the Vanderbilt Commodores sputtered in the second half before falling to the #14 Kentucky Wildcats 14-7 on the road.

Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. ran for 169 yards and a touchdown, while Vanderbilt’s lone touchdown came on a first-quarter pass from quarterback Kyle Shurmur to wide receiver C.J. Bolar.

The road team pushed towards the end zone in the final 10 minutes of the game, but a stuffed run up the middle on 4th-and-1 in the red zone allowed Kentucky to take over and drive for the eventual winning touchdown.

“We had our chances,” head coach Derek Mason said. “Like I told my team, we’re close. The reality is that sometimes the last part of the toughest part to get. With that being said, my head’s not down. This group battled. They came into a hostile environment and there are no moral victories in this ballgame. We had our chances and we didn’t cash in. Kentucky pulled this game out.”

Vanderbilt got the ball into Kentucky territory on the opening drive with runs and pass catches by running backs Ja’Veon Marlow and Jamauri Wakefield, but two straight pressures by Kentucky’s front line pushed Vanderbilt out of field goal range. On the ensuing drive, Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson earned a first down on a keeper but Vanderbilt safety LaDarius Wiley forced a fumble. Vanderbilt recovered to take the Wildcats off the field after just two plays.

The Commodores’ ensuing drive nearly went off the rails when a 3rd-and-2 deep in Wildcat territory became 3rd-and-7 thanks to a delay of game penalty. But, it was quickly negated by a picture-perfect lofted pass from Shurmur to freshman wide receiver C.J. Bolar in the corner for a Vanderbilt touchdown.

Kentucky’s turnover troubles continued on their next drive. On the second play, an errant screen pass fell loose and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Griffin recovered it to give Vanderbilt the ball back again. However, this time around the Commodores could not take advantage and went three-and-out.

As the first quarter turned to the second, Vanderbilt’s defense continued to hold strong. Despite a 22-yard rush by Wilson, Vanderbilt remained strong and ended the drive on the next series. Jordan Griffin made a key break-up on third down after a pair of fumble recoveries in the first quarter.

Kentucky finally had the chance to string a drive together when Vanderbilt got pinned deep and had to punt to their own 49 yard line. Snell and Wilson ran the ball relentlessly with 10 straight rushing plays at one point, but it was a short pass to the corner of the end zone from Wilson to Lynn Bowden that tied the game at 7-7.

Despite stalling out on offense on their last two drives of the first half, Vanderbilt’s defense came up big and kept Kentucky on their side of the field in the final minutes to keep the score level at halftime.

The Commodores forced Kentucky into a quick three-and-out to start the second half, but nearly coughed it up on the ensuing drive after Shurmur coughed up an interception downfield, but it was called back due to defensive holding. The drive continued, but Vanderbilt couldn’t put on any points as Ryley Guay’s kick into the wind went wide left.

On the ensuing drive, Kentucky converted on some third downs and got themselves towards the red zone, but a botched snap on first down killed momentum and the Wildcats pushed a field goal attempt wide right to keep the game even.

Vanderbilt used a 49-yard dart downfield from Shurmur to Bolar to get themselves in prime territory, but came up short on a fourth down run by Wakefield inside the red zone and couldn’t come up with points. It ended up costing them on the other end as the Wildcats marched down the field for a Snell touchdown to make it 14-7 Kentucky.

Mason said the fourth down play came down to a missed blocking assignment on an outside rusher that moved back inside and allowed Kentucky to stuff the run in the backfield and force a fumble. He also said that Shurmur could have checked out of the play at the line of scrimmage, but didn’t.

“I took a timeout and asked him [offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig] to give us our best call,” Mason said of the play call. “So, with that being said, he felt like that was the best call and we rolled with it. I don’t second guess it, I don’t need to second guess it. If you’re trying to turn this into something that it’s not, don’t do it. At the end of the day, we didn’t get the down. You don’t get the down, we turn it over, defense has got to stop them. That’s it, man. This has nothing to do with Andy Ludwig. We called a play, should have blocked it, should have got the first down, we didn’t. Keep going.”

Despite earning a first down on the ensuing drive’s first play, Vanderbilt stalled out yet again and had to punt it away with six minutes remaining.

The Commodores pushed the ball forward with one final drive in the final two minutes with good catches by Jared Pinkney and Donovan Tennyson to get near midfield. However, the drive was cut short when Shurmur was strip-sacked and recovered by Kentucky to seal the game.

Mason lamented his team’s inability to finish the upset opportunity late in the game.

“We have so many details that are just missing in critical situations that it makes it extremely tough,” he said. “With that being said, you keep going. I’ve got games left to coach. I can’t afford to show weakness, I can’t afford to show anything but the resolve that it takes to get you that extra inch and a half to get us from where we are to where we want to be.”

Vanderbilt falls to 3-5 with a matchup against Arkansas on the docket next weekend.

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