NASHVILLE, Tenn. — About 70 minutes of real time after kickoff, after Vanderbilt had honored 30 of its seniors on Dudley Field inside Vanderbilt Stadium, the Commodores stood shell-shocked looking at a scoreboard that read 28-3 in favor of visiting Kentucky.
It was not the storybook ending Vandy had envisioned for a group of veterans laying the foundation for head coach Clark Lea in his first season in Nashville. But sophomore quarterback Mike Wright, who led two touchdown drives in the second half, still made sure Vanderbilt’s seniors knew that just how much a win in the home finale would have meant to everyone in a black-and-gold jersey.
“I’m proud of all of our seniors. (Saturday) was an emotional night for them so it became an emotional night for me,” Wright said. “I’m very appreciative of all of them. How they treated me ever since I stepped on this campus? I can’t put into words how appreciative I am.”
Wright entered the fray Saturday with his team trailing 31-3 and helped Vanderbilt (2-8, 0-6 SEC) actually outscore the Wildcats 14-3 over the final two quarters. He threw touchdown passes to Chris Pierce and Amir Abdur-Rahman, respectively, as the Commodores out-gained Kentucky 161-135 in the second half.
That, of course, was little consolation for a team knowing another opportunity was missed after giving the opponent way too many advantages in the first two quarters.
“We weren’t able on defense to get wins on first and second down,” Lea said. “We knew that was going to be a big deal coming in, and some of that is going to be execution-based. Some of that’s going to be when we were blitzing, the intensity of the twitch, the speed of our movements. I felt like Kentucky’s offensive line did a nice job getting us cut out and getting a run game established.
“We had the drive there on offense where we got sacked, took a loss and then we shanked a punt and gave them a short field. I think it was two throws and then touchdown, so explosive plays hurt us.”
Scoring scored on all four of its first four drives – three touchdowns and a field goal – and also found the end zone on a pick-6. Vandy had just 105 yards of offense (18 on the ground), was 3 of 8 on third down and committed six penalties in the first half.
It was all a recipe for a 28-point deficit at the break.
“It may be a little repetitive because it’s true – we’re not at the place where we can self-sabotage and also be successful,” Pierce said. “We can’t play the opponent and also play ourselves. That was the biggest thing for us in the first half.
“We were self-sabotaging ourselves and that didn’t let us get the rhythm we needed to be successful as an offense.”
Vandy, losers of 19 consecutive SEC games, has just two chances left to breaks its long losing skid in league games. But the road is incredibly daunting over the next two weeks.
A trip to No. 10 Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2 SEC) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday is followed by a trek to Knoxville to end the season against bitter rival Tennessee (5-5, 3-4 SEC). And Vanderbilt will need to prepare and play much better for those matchups than it did for Kentucky.
“I think our coaches did a good job of identifying areas that we needed to be focused on – but we missed in the translation from the focus to the execution and that is accountability across the board, starting with me,” Lea said. “But I also want to credit (Kentucky) coach (Mark) Stoops and his team for being ready and playing a good game and executing their plan at a high level.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.