Kyle Shurmur was the spark Vanderbilt needed. The freshman quarterback led Vanderbilt to Derek Mason's second SEC win when the Commodores defeated Kentucky 21-17 on Saturday afternoon.
Shurmur displayed strong composure en route to 166 passing yards and two touchdowns in the game. Ralph Webb had his second straight 100-yard rushing game when he rumbled for 113 yards as the 'Dores worked to wear down the Wildcats in the final two quarters. Caleb Scott was Shurmur's favorite target. The sophomore wideout had 87 receiving yards and a touchdown
Kentucky struck first with a 14-play drive that ended in a 38-yard field goal, and the Wildcats were primed to put more points on the board after Ralph Webb fumbled at the Commodore 39 yard line. Boom Williams rumbled 38 yards to put UK inches from the goal line, but the 'Cats were turned away at the border on four straight plays to keep the score 3-0. Vanderbilt drove 53 yards before punting, but Openshaw's punt pinned UK at their own 14-yard line, and Caleb Azubike forced a Williams fumble that gave Vandy the ball at the four-yard line.
One play later, Kyle Shurmur found Kyle Anderton in the end zone for an all-freshman touchdown connection that made it 7-3 for the Commodores.
Another fumble, this time by Darrius Sims, gave the Wildcats another scoring opportunity deep inside Commodore territory in the second quarter. However, Vandy came up huge once more when Torren McGaster batted an end zone fade route into Oren Burks's hands to ensure that UK's second drive inside the VU five yard line ended like the first. Vanderbilt couldn't capitalize on the extra possession, but their defensive prowess forced Kentucky coach Mark Stoops to turn to freshman quarterback Drew Barker in place of the struggling Patrick Towles.
Barker made an immediate impact. His first pass was a 42-yard strike to Jeff Badet that drove UK into Vandy territory. Four plays later, he hit Ryan Timmons near the sideline for a seven-yard touchdown that put the Wildcats back in the lead.
One drive later, Barker's hot start had cooled off like a cheap bowl of soup. His third-and-12 pass over the middle was picked off by Burks, who ran it back 30 yards for a Commodore touchdown. An incomplete fourth down pass on the next drive handed the ball back to VU with just over a minute left in the half, and an uncharacteristically opportunistic Vandy team didn't waste the possession. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig successfully hid Caleb Scott a few feet from the sideline as the 'Dores ran up to the line of scrimmage, and Shurmur found his completely uncovered wideout streaking down the field for a 37-yard touchdown pass that pushed the lead to 21-10 at halftime.
The two teams exchanged punts to open an uneventful third quarter before Williams broke free for a 67-yard run that gave UK a familiar first-and-goal situation. They didn't waste this opportunity, giving the ball to JoJo Kemp for a pair of rushes and a one-yard touchdown run that cut the VU lead to 21-17 at the end of the third. The Commodores, on the other hand, reverted back to the conservative gameplan that haunted them early in the season, running the ball into the middle of the field with little success and punting after three plays. Vanderbilt gained only 11 yards with their first three drives of the fourth quarter. Their final drive, however, was the only one that mattered. Webb carried the 'Dores to a pair of first downs in a 4:30, 23-yard trek that handed the ball back to UK with 10 second left and 78 yards to cover to win the game. Caleb Azubike extinguished the Wildcats hopes when he sacked Patrick Towles before he could even attempt a last-gasp Hail Mary.
Vanderbilt improved to 4-6 and 2-4 in the SEC with the win. Kentucky lost their fifth straight game and fell to 4-6, 2-6 in the conference. The Commodores will return to Dudley Field next weekend to host Texas A&M.