Rapid Reaction: Grieving Kentucky gets offensive to beat Vandy
On the week when Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman passed away from cancer, the previously struggling Wildcats offense put together a big game on Saturday to hold off winless Vanderbilt, 38-35, in Lexington.
Kentucky’s offensive line paid tribute to their late coach on the first play, then played a strong game, paving the way for over 300 yards rushing and keeping QB Terry Wilson upright with relative ease.
Wilson returned after missing UK’s previous game against Georgia and was especially sharp in the victory. Wilson threw two first-half touchdown passes and helped Kentucky post another strong rushing day, adding a 32-yard touchdown run. Kentucky took an early 14-0 advantage, then held off a surprisingly strong day from a Vanderbilt offense which was last in the conference in scoring coming in.
Vandy had a solid day from QB Ken Seals, who had a first half touchdown and from sophomore running back Keyon Henry-Brooks, who surpassed 100 rushing yards by the beginning of the fourth quarter before leaving the game with an injury. Red-zone QB Mike Wright both passed and rushed for touchdowns as Vandy rallied to make the game competitive.
Kentucky (3-4) received the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in 9 plays, ending the drive with a 15-yard scoring pass from Wilson to senior tight end Justin Rigg with 10:15 left in the first quarter. After Vandy mistakenly fielded UK’s bouncing kickoff on a fair catch at the 1-yard line, the Commodores managed one first down, but then punted back to Kentucky. UK followed with a 6-play, 68-yard drive, culminating in Wilson’s 32-yard scamper around right end with 3:48 to play in the opening quarter.
Leading 14-0, Kentucky seemed in excellent shape after a quarter. Vandy answered with a 34-yard connection from Seals to Chris Pierce in the end zone to draw the Commodores to within 14-7 early in the second quarter. Kentucky answered with a 79-yard, 7-play drive that finished with sophomore tight end Keaton Upshaw hauling in Wilson’s second TD pass of the day, this time from 21 yards.
The Commodores (0-6) answered with a nearly 7-minute drive that covered 78 yards on 17 plays, with Wright hitting tight end Ben Bresnahan for a 2-yard score on 4th and goal. That score drew the Commodores to within 21-14, but Kentucky drove for a 28-yard field goal by Chance Poore to end the half.
Kentucky forced a three and out to open the second half, then relied on a 39-yard Josh Ali punt return to set up sophomore running back Chris Rodriguez for a 2-yard touchdown with 10:34 left in the third quarter. Vandy responded with another lengthy drive, this one eating up 7:41 in clock and covering 75 yards in 15 plays, with Wright running into the end zone on 4th and goal from the 2 to cap the drive. So Kentucky led 31-21 after three quarters.
After scoring on every possession of the day, Kentucky was stopped for the first time at the end of the third quarter. Vandy took over and drove to the UK 40, but a key sack from Jamar “Boogie” Watson and Josh Paschal forced a Vanderbilt punt. Kentucky answered with a 74-yard scoring run from Rodriguez, which vaulted the Wildcats over 300 total yards rushing.
The Commodores made things interesting with two touchdowns in the final 3:13 but the Wildcats fielded an onside kick with 30 seconds left and ran out the clock.
Kentucky is scheduled to play next week at Alabama. The other two remaining games on Kentucky’s schedule are at Florida and at home against South Carolina. Vanderbilt is next slated to play at home against Florida next Saturday.