Vanderbilt dismantled by Kentucky, 38-14

Commodores cough up 14-3 lead, give up 35 unanswered in third-straight loss

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Vanderbilt dismantled by Kentucky, 38-14

Vanderbilt faces Kentucky on Saturday, October 20, 2018.

Vanderbilt faces Kentucky on Saturday, October 20, 2018.

Emily Gonçalves

Vanderbilt faces Kentucky on Saturday, October 20, 2018.

Emily Gonçalves

Emily Gonçalves

Vanderbilt faces Kentucky on Saturday, October 20, 2018.

Will Fritzler, Staff Writer

The Commodores seemed poised to rebound from their two-game losing streak after taking a 14-3 lead over Kentucky in the first quarter. By the third quarter, however, the Wildcats took total control, firing off a 35-0 scoring run that delivered them a comfortable victory on Saturday evening in Nashville.

By all measures, Kentucky was the better team. The Wildcats had 529 yards of offense to just 198 for Vanderbilt; Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. was 8-10 for 104 yards and one touchdown, on top of his 110 rushing yards, compared to 10-19, 74 yards, and an interception for Vanderbilt quarterback Riley Neal; and Kentucky picked up more than twice as many first downs — 30 to 12 — and held the ball almost twice as long — 38 minutes to 22.

Vanderbilt entered the game 2-7 and 1-5 in SEC play, having lost both games on their two-game road trip, to Florida and South Carolina, by a combined 73 points. Kentucky lost their previous game at home to Tennessee, 17-13, to drop to 4-5 and 2-5 in conference.

Vanderbilt’s first drive started with a short run by running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and collapsed with a high snap that Vanderbilt recovered back at their own five, bringing up a 3rd and 30 that would force a Commodores punt.

Kentucky started its own first drive with an explosive, 24-yard run from running back Asim Rose, which after three short run plays set up a successful 32-yard field goal from Chance Poore to make the score 3-0 with 9:48 left in the first.

The Commodores made amends on their second drive, when a series of explosive rush plays ended in a five-yard touchdown run from Vaughn. A pair of nine-yard runs from Vaughn were followed by an explosive run down the left sideline by wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb for a 22-yard gain. Neal then executed a savvy trick play by lofting a backwards pass in the backfield to Cam Johnson, who then switched the field and threw to Vaughn on the left side, who ran for 16 through the scrambled Kentucky secondary. A pair of short runs by running back Keyon Brooks, followed by an offsides penalty on the Wildcats, set up Vaughn’s run to the right side that found the end zone with 5:21 left in the quarter.

Kentucky appeared ready for a swift counterpunch when Rose opened their subsequent drive with a blistering 49-yard run to the Vanderbilt 26, but on the next play, Rose fumbled the ball after the pressure by Commodores outside left back Andre Mintze. Cornerback Allan George recovered the loose ball and ran it 67 yards for a Vanderbilt scoop-and-score touchdown which, after the Guay extra point, made the score 14-3 Vanderbilt less than a minute after Vaughn’s touchdown.

A steady diet of short rushes and a handful of longer carries from Wildcats running back Kavosiey Smoke gave Kentucky prime field position to close out the first quarter. Smoke would carry the ball three yards straight ahead and, with the help of his teammates pushing him, he found the end zone to make it 14-10 with less than a minute gone from the second quarter.

Vanderbilt went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. Kentucky sensed an opening and took advantage, feeding the ball through Smoke and letting Bowden run the ball multiple times on the following drive. Running back Chris Rodriguez capped off the drive with a 22-yard run up the middle, diving past a Vanderbilt tackle and reaching the endline to make it 17-14 with 8:07 left in the half.

Another empty possession for the Commodores set up a seven-minute drive by the Wildcats that extended their lead just before halftime. A crucial 3rd down conversion at the Vanderbilt 35 set up three Kentucky pass plays. The third one proved decisive, when a lofted pass to the right side of the end zone was tipped by Commodores safety Brendon Harris, but still found wide receiver Josh Ali behind him for a third Kentucky touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining in the half. After a two-yard run from Vaughn to run out the clock, the teams headed into halftime with Kentucky leading 24-14.

Vanderbilt was overwhelmed statistically in the first half: outgained 319-84, out-rushed 279-66, and out-passed 40-18 by a quarterback who only had four attempts going into the last minute. Johnson had more passing yards than Neal, who had just two off of 1-5 passing at the half. Kentucky held the ball more than twice as long as Vanderbilt and earned 18 first downs to the Commodores’ five. Vaughn was perhaps the lone bright spot for the home team, accounting for 51 total yards and their only offensive touchdown.

Kentucky seized total control on their first second-half drive, taking just over three minutes to reach the end zone. A 40-yard pass play to wide receiver Clevan Thomas Jr. almost found the end zone, but Thomas stepped out at the two. Bowden would keep the ball on the ensuing snap and stroll into the end zone to the right of his line, pushing Kentucky into a 31-14 advantage three minutes into the third quarter.

Neal’s first long pass attempt of the game on the next drive ended in disaster, with Wildcats safety Yusuk Corker intercepting the lofted ball intended for Lipscomb at the Kentucky 28 near the left sideline. Vanderbilt nearly forced a punt on the ensuing drive after pushing Kentucky to 3rd and 26 from their own 29 after a sack of Bowden, but a pass play to Smoke led to a 28-yard gain and moved the chains. Five plays later, Rodriguez ran the ball down the right side for 27 yards and another Kentucky touchdown with 3:51 left in the third. The score ballooned to 38-14 Kentucky.

The Commodores drove the ball into Kentucky territory on their next drive that extended into the fourth quarter, but Neal made an incomplete pass to Johnson in triple coverage downfield on 4th and 8, and Vanderbilt turned the ball over on downs with 14:48 left.

Kentucky turned the ball over themselves after failing to convert on 4th and 10 from the Vanderbilt 37 with 11:05 remaining. Having secured the ball with decent field position, the Commodores marched down the field and faced 4th and goal at the Wildcats 5 with 5:39 on the clock, but Neal kept the ball and rushed for no gain, and for the fifth straight drive, Vanderbilt came up empty.

The Wildcats would hold the ball until 1:03 and kick away, and Vanderbilt ran out the clock with redshirt sophomore quarterback Allan Walters taking snaps.

After the game, head coach Derek Mason said “We just weren’t good enough tonight. That was a team loss. Defense and offense just weren’t enough.”

“We knew it was gonna be that type of ballgame. For us, Riley and the offense, because they were off the field so much, it was hard for them to find rhythm. Riley has gotta make some better decisions as to what he’s doing when the opportunity presents himself. I thought he found guys, we just didn’t make enough plays for him. He’s gotta continue to keep his head up and find his targets.”

“We’re still present in these last two games. I write down everything I know that needs to change, and I just keep moving forward. Change is inevitable, and I know that. For me, I’m always working hard to be where my feet are, but knowing that some things need to be different. Whether it’s strength, whether it’s schematics. Right now we have to deal with the present.”

After the game, George echoed what Mason said about the Commodores defense. “I think overall, front end and back end, we just gotta tackle. We just didn’t execute that today.”

The Commodores, who drop to 2-8, will next face East Tennessee State at home on Nov. 23 at 2:30pm before traveling to face rival Tennessee on Nov. 30 to conclude the 2019 season.

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