Vanderbilt couldn’t find an offensive rhythm early in Lexington. By the time Kyle Shurmur found his targets downfield, it was too late for the Commodores to earn their first SEC win of the season.
Kentucky never trailed in a 20-13 victory that may have sealed Derek Mason’s fate as Vanderbilt’s head coach. With a difficult schedule remaining, the ‘Dores seem consigned to a three or four win season in 2016. Vandy made it close at the end, but Shurmur’s final two-minute drill fell one fourth-and-goal pass short of a key road win.
Ralph Webb had 100 yards on 18 carries, but left the game with an apparent knee injury in the fourth quarter. Shurmur finished the game completing 17 of his 29 passes, but for only 141 yards downfield.
Vanderbilt won the coin toss and deferred. Kentucky made the Commodores regret that decision. Stanley “Boom” Williams and JoJo Kemp combined for 57 rushing yards as the Wildcats marched 75 yards to score an opening possession touchdown to put the ‘Dores in a hole early.
Vanderbilt eventually responded behind a 48-yard Tommy Openshaw field goal to make the score 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Vanderbilt’s special teams helped Kentucky extend its lead in the second quarter. A Ryan White muffed punt return turned what should have been 1st-and-10 Vandy inside UK territory into a new lease on life for the Wildcat offense. Kentucky converted a pair of fourth down plays on a 13-play, 47 yard drive capped by a Stephen Johnson bootleg into the end zone that made it 14-3.
The Commodores threatened two drives later when they pushed near the UK red zone, but a key third down conversion was derailed by a delay of game penalty and a Kyle Shurmur sack that made it 4th-and-18 from the Kentucky 34. Rather than allow Openshaw a chance to kick another long field goal, Derek Mason waved the white flag and took another delay penalty before Sam Loy’s punt bounced into the end zone. Total net yards: 14.
The Wildcats drained the clock with the ensuing drive, covering 54 yards in 15 plays before extending their lead to 17-3 behind Austin MacGinnis’s 46-yard field goal.
Darrius Sims returned the following kickoff 65 yards to the UK 35 to give the ‘Dores a chance to cut into the Kentucky lead with 20 seconds to play in the half. Shurmur scrambled for a key 11-yard gain on his first play, but followed that with an intentional grounding call that forced Openshaw into a 49-yard field goal attempt as the clock ran out on the second quarter. That kick sailed wide left, preserving the Wildcats’ 17-3 lead at the half.
Vanderbilt came out flat on offense to start the third quarter, but its defense was ready for action. White stripped Williams on a first down carry, popping the ball into Taurean Ferguson’s hands. The junior defensive back executed a perfect scoop-n-score to make this a one-possession game.
Tre Herndon ended UK’s next possession early when he picked off an errand Johnson pass. A personal foul pushed Vandy into UK territory, but Ralph Webb got stood up on fourth-and-1 to erase a potential scoring drive.
Kentucky couldn’t capitalize, but a fumbled punt pinned the Commodores at their own seven. Shurmur responded with clutch passing to move Vandy into UK territory before Webb and Khari Blasingame pushed their team into the red zone.
Vanderbilt had a first-and-goal situation from the Kentucky 10, but two Webb runs failed to do anything but injure the team’s most important player. Openshaw kicked a 26-yard field goal to cut the Wildcat lead to 17-13, but Webb would eventually walk gingerly to the locker room and fail to return to a Vandy offense that desperately needed him in the fourth quarter.
The Commodores stalled out without Webb, and Kentucky was ready to capitalize. The home team used a 13-play, 6:20 drive to bleed the clock before MacGinnis added a 28-yard field goal to make this a one-touchdown game with 1:38 to play.
Shurmur led Vandy to a game-tying score in a two-minute drill two weeks ago against Western Kentucky. He would have to do the same against the regular version.
The sophomore QB was composed in the pocket, completing his first five passes to move the ‘Dores into the UK red zone. Vanderbilt had the ball at the Kentucky 17 with 30 seconds to play before hitting C.J. Duncan on a clutch third-down play to put Vandy on the cusp of tying this game with a first-and-goal situation.
Shurmur had this game tied, but Jared Pinkney dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone on second down. His third down pass was complete -- but outside of the end zone. On fourth down, his ‘Dores were called for a delay of game pushing them from the eight to the 13-yard line. Then, the sophomore’s final pass of the game sailed high, sealing a Kentucky win and denying this team of its first conference victory.
Kentucky improved to 3-3 and 2-2 in the SEC with the win. Vanderbilt fell to 2-4 and 0-3 with the loss. The Commodores will return next week when they travel to Georgia for a conference showdown on October 15.