It was pass at your own peril Saturday.
So after halftime Vanderbilt and Kentucky both decided to play it safe. The Wildcats, however, also played keep-away.
The teams threw a combined 12 times over the final two quarters – seven by VU, five by UK – but the Commodores’ offense had the ball for just 17 plays and produced one first down over that stretch. The result was a difference of more than 17 minutes of time of possession and 14 points on the scoreboard as Vanderbilt fell 24-13 in its final home game.
“I think it was pretty apparent that they just wore us down, beat us down,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “We couldn’t stop the run there in the second half. … Give Kentucky credit for having a real good, simple plan of taking it to us.”
Kentucky ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 39 attempts after halftime. Four of its six second-half possessions lasted more than four minutes, and it held the ball for 23:04 of the final 30 minutes.
That was in response to the fact that Vanderbilt had a 13-10 halftime lead on the strength of two interceptions, which led directly to 10 points.
Eddie Foster’s pick of Mike Hartline set up Ryan Fowler’s career-long 47-yard field goal 4:53 into the second quarter. Myron Lewis’ interception of Morgan Newton then put the offense in position for John Cole’s 21-yard touchdown reception with 2:24 to play in the half and the Commodores’ first first-half lead in SEC play.
For the game, 308 of Kentucky’s 399 total yards came on the ground.
“I thought the last 30 minutes was some of the best football we played in a long time,” UK coach Rich Brooks said. “… Certainly, the offense ran the ball very well and converted, and (we) threw it when we had to.”
It did not help that Vanderbilt (2-9, 0-7 in the SEC) played the final two quarters without linebacker Patrick Benoist and cornerback Casey Hayward. Benoist, the Commodores’ second-leading tackler, sustained a concussion with 4:08 to play in the second half, and as he received treatment on the field Hayward, the team’s leader in tackles for a loss, made his way to the locker room with a migraine.
Benoist spent the rest of the game at the hospital. Hayward was on the sideline but out of uniform.
“There were certain personnel packages we couldn’t use anymore with those injuries,” defensive end Steven Stone said. “Anytime you lose a guy like Pat Benoist or Casey Hayward, it’s definitely a blow to the team.”
Unlike Kentucky (6-4, 2-4), Vanderbilt stuck with one quarterback, Mackenzi Adams, from start to finish.
Adams was intercepted just once in 24 attempts but did not have the time consistently to complete passes. He hit on just 11 tries, one in the second half, was sacked twice and hit numerous other occasions.
“There was quite a bit of pressure the whole game,” Adams said. “It was really their front four that was getting in there. So that was that.”
Johnson second-guessed the decision of he and his staff to start and stick with tackles Thomas Welch and Reilly Lauer, both of whom came into the game with injuries. Welch, the left tackle, had an ankle injury, and Lauer, the right tackle, had leg and knee troubles.
The truth is the line had troubles blocking for the run as well as the pass. Eventually, Vanderbilt elected emphasize the run, and the result was a combined 73 rushing yards by backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, including 23 yards on six attempts in the final two quarters.
“We didn’t feel like we had a very good chance of passing because we couldn’t get it off,” Johnson said. “We were trying to run the football, trying get it manageable on third down so we didn’t have to stay in the pocket forever back there.
“… That’s a tough job when people are putting a lot of pressure on you. It’s just tough to be out there and say you’re going to make every throw and shine.”
Sometimes it’s best just not to throw it much at all. For Kentucky, this was one of those times.
• Vanderbilt led at halftime (13-10) for just the second time this season and the first in conference play. The only other time the Commodores were on top at the break was in the season-opener against Western Carolina (21-0).
“We went in, had a discussion, talked about things and what we were going to do in the second half,” Adams said. “We didn’t really execute, I guess.”
The last time Vanderbilt was in front of an SEC opponent after two quarters was last year at Kentucky when it was up 24-7.
“I thought we were going to win,” Cole said. “(But) I go into every game thinking we’re going to win.”
• Fowler, a redshirt-freshman, kicked the longest field goal of his career when his 42-yarder made it 7-3 with 3:01 to play in the first quarter. He then exceeded that when he was good from 47 yards early in the second quarter
He has made his last five, which has equaled his longest streak of the season.
“Those were two good kicks,” Johnson said. “I think he’s really developing into a good kicker.”
• Lewis’ interception was the 10th of his career. He became the 13th player in Vanderbilt history with at least that number.