NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt knew it had to stop the run to have a chance Saturday against visiting Kentucky.
Rarely were the Commodores able to rise to that challenge inside Vanderbilt Stadium.
“I think overall across the board from the front end to the back end we just have to tackle more,” Vanderbilt sophomore defensive back Allan George said. “Our coaches, they prepared us for it in training camp and in the summer, they’ve beat it into our heads that tackling – you got to wrap the guy up and drag our feet. We just didn’t execute that today.”
Kentucky rushed for 401 yards, averaged seven yards per carry, ate up 38:39 of clock and registered 30 first downs en route to a 38-14 win. The Wildcats (5-5, 3-5 SEC) came in without a legitimate passing attack and were still able to run up and down the field with ease against the Commodores.
Lynn Bowden took over quarterback duties for Kentucky earlier this season because of injuries at the position. The wide receiver finished Saturday’s game with 110 yards on the ground and went 8 of 10 passing for 104 yards.
Kavosiey Smoke finished with 95 yards on the ground and Chris Rodriguez racked up 129 and scored twice for Kentucky. The Commodores (2-8, 1-6 SEC) surrendered 7.3 yards per play.
“Today was that type of game where we knew we were going to get limited opportunities,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. “Kentucky was going to try to play keep away – and they did. They played their ballgame and we couldn’t play ours. Unfortunately, with that, our offense went through long stretches without touching the field.
“The ebb and flow of the ballgame for them was very inconsistent because they just didn’t get out there enough. And then when they did we couldn’t stay out there.”
Vanderbilt looked like it had a defensive gameplan figured out early by taking a 14-3 lead. It bounced back from a 3-0 hole to go up 7-3 on Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 5-yard touchdown run then went up 14-3 on a defensive score.
Linebacker Andre Mintze stripped Kentucky running back Asim Rose and George returned for 67 yards to the house.
At that point the Dores were in total control.
“This is a game of momentum and I thought we created some early. Obviously we were able to get up 14-3 and I thought we had great momentum,” Mason said. “But today we just got out-physicaled on both sides of the ball up front. We lost the line of scrimmage.
“Didn’t tackle very well. Could not tackle very well. They ran through tackles, through arm tackles and just extended drives and extended plays. They were good on third down where we couldn’t get off the field. It goes back to tackling.”
Kentucky began its comeback with a 3-yard touchdown run from Smoke to start the second quarter. Rodriguez then scored from 22 yards out, Josh Ali caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Bowden, Bowden ran in from two yards away and Rodriguez added a 27-yard scoring jaunt before the end of the third quarter.
There was seemingly nothing Vandy could do to slow down the Wildcats.
“I think we just got to execute better,” Vanderbilt wide receiver Cam Johnson said. “I’ve always heard that the first first down is the most-important in football. I know a couple time we’ll go three-and-out and then we’ll get that first first down and we’re moving the ball. To me it’s just execution in the drive and making sure that we keep the drive going.”
The Commodores will now try to close out its home schedule with a win at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday against visiting East Tennessee State (3-8). They’ll also be looking to snap a three-game losing streak and forget about their worst loss to rival Kentucky since 2001.
There are still two games, after all, to try to get better.
“I wanted this season to be great season like I always do. I wanted it for these kids,” Mason said. “But we had some deficiencies coming into the season. Starting the season 0-3 definitely didn’t help. When you look at 0-3 teams here at Vanderbilt they haven’t gone on to do very well. So the odds were against us.
“The biggest thing I try to do every week is to get our guys to compete and make sure they find ways to get better individually. When they get better individually, collectively we get better.”
• The Commodores had 23 different players record at least one tackle Saturday.
• Vandy linebacker Dimitri Moore recorded his fourth double-digit tackle game of the season with 13 total tackles. Of those 13 tackles six were unassisted and Moore also recored half of a sack.
• Vanderbilt is now 42-46-4 against Kentucky.
• In 22 career games with Vanderbilt, Vaughn has 2,120 rushing yards – the eight-most in Vandy history. He needs 514 yards (257 yards/game over the next two games) to finish third all-time behind Zac Stacy (3,143) and Ralph Webb (4,173).
• Vaughn needs one rushing touchdown to move past Jerry Seymour (19) for third on the program’s career rushing touchdowns all-time list. Zac Stacy (30) is second and Ralph Webb (32) is first.
• Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb needs two receptions to move past Boo Mitchell (188) for the fourth-most catches in program history.
• The Commodores have now been outscored 201-52 in the second half this season and 97-0 in the second half of their last five defeats.
• Attendance on Saturday was announced as 23,288.