Kentucky offense fizzles in 22-6 loss at Vanderbilt

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 16, 2013 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

NASHVILLE — In the city of music, Kentucky continued its two-win two-step.

The 22-6 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday left Coach Mark Stoops sounding — and probably feeling — like a broken record.

"Same old song and dance," Stoops said after UK gave up 22 unanswered points, granting the Commodores an easy promenade to bowl eligibility for a third consecutive season. "I'm upset, frustrated, I thought we played extremely hard, but we don't make enough plays at critical times."

Stoops wasn't the only one frustrated by Kentucky's 14th straight loss to a Southeastern Conference opponent and third in a row to Vanderbilt.

"It's real tough; you get sick of the same old thing," senior linebacker Avery Williamson said.

It wasn't the exact same thing. It wasn't the 40-0 shellacking from Vandy at Commonwealth Stadium last season.

It wasn't exactly the same as Kentucky's eight previous losses. UK found new ways to falter on Saturday, including atypical penalties and four Jalen Whitlow interceptions after the sophomore quarterback had thrown just one all season.

The coaches said the turnovers were not necessarily all Whitlow's fault, but the offense's as a whole. Either way, Vandy Coach James Franklin said the interceptions were a major factor.

"We talk about it every single week, but the turnovers were huge, especially considering (Kentucky) had done a great job of protecting the football all year long," he said.

Franklin thought his team did a good job of containing Whitlow, who had 17 carries for 69 yards and 120 yards passing.

"Our defense played as well against the spread and a mobile quarterback since I've been here," he said of Vanderbilt, which held Kentucky to its fewest offensive yards (262) since the loss to Alabama.

Kentucky didn't help itself with penalties and missed opportunities, part of the same old song and dance Stoops was discussing.

"We're not good enough right now," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "It's pretty plain to see."

Early in the game, it looked as though Kentucky (2-8, 0-6) might be whistling a new tune, marching 75 yards to score on a short, diving Jojo Kemp run to make it 6-0.

But Joe Mansour's extra-point attempt was blocked by Adam Butler, and Steven Clarke ran it back to the UK end zone to make it 6-2.

It was the second missed extra point of the season for Mansour, the last one also in Nashville against Western Kentucky in the season opener.

"It kind of killed momentum," UK special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto said.

The statistics supported Peveto's analysis. Kentucky's offense compiled just 94 yards the rest of the first half. Its subsequent drives ended this way: punt, interception, punt, interception, interception.

"We've got to find some explosive playmakers and get the ball in the end zone, that's it," Stoops said.

Whitlow's first interception Saturday, his first in six games, helped set up Vanderbilt's only touchdown of the first half.

Whitlow's pass deflected off the hands of Demarco Robinson and into the outstretched arms of Andre Hal.

After being stuffed by UK's Donte Rumph for no gain on a run up the middle, Brian Kimbrow went a similar route, but this one helped him go 21 yards into the end zone to give Vandy a 9-6 lead.

Rumph, a senior defensive tackle, had a career-best 10 tackles in the loss.

The turnover-touchdown combo was a carryover from the Commodores' historic win at Florida last week when they took advantage of Gators mistakes to set up scoring drives of 10, 22 and 4 yards.

Even though Vanderbilt's defense forced two more interceptions — one on a Hail Mary pass to end the half — it was Kentucky's defense that stole the first-half show.

It held Vanderbilt, which had scored 24 or more points in 15 straight games, to 79 yards of total offense, including just 28 yards on the ground. That equaled just 2.9 yards per play and 1.6 yards per run for the Commodores' offense.

"You go in at halftime saying you completely controlled the game and you're down, what were we down? Two? Down three at the half," Stoops said. "And we played extremely well, really, on both sides of the ball."

On fourth down early in the third quarter, Kentucky lined up in a field-goal formation for what appeared to be a game-tying, 47-yard attempt, which would have been a career long for Mansour. The senior would be kicking into the wind, however, and had missed one from the same distance at Mississippi State.

Mansour, 2-for-3 from 40-49 yards this season, didn't have a chance to convert. Instead, UK opted for a fake, but holder Jared Leet was tackled for a 2-yard loss.

Later, Vandy (6-4, 3-4) used a 34-yard pass to Jordan Matthews, the SEC's leading receiver, and then a targeting call (and subsequent ejection of UK safety Eric Dixon) to reach the Cats' 28-yard line.

The Commodores settled for a 38-yard field goal from Carey Spear to make it 15-6 with 7:13 left to play, dealing UK a deficit it couldn't overcome.

Matthews had 12 catches for 141 yards to lead Vanderbilt, which outgained UK by a mere 313-262.

To punctuate the victory — and perhaps add insult to injury — Patton Robinette's 13-yard jump pass to Kris Kentera in the end zone with less than a minute to play ended the scoring at 22-6.

It left Stoops harping on the same things again, trying to remain optimistic with two games left in his first season as Kentucky's coach.

"We know where we're going," he said. "If you just look at the heart and the energy and the effort that our team played with, I'm proud of that. I'm not saying that it's good enough."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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