NASHVILLE — Donte Rumph limped out of the Kentucky locker room and into a huddle of reporters waiting for him on the turf at Vanderbilt Stadium.
His ankle ached along with everything else after the Cats' 22-6 loss to the Commodores on Saturday.
The senior defensive tackle said the limp was "just football."
But his heart hurt in ways beyond football.
"Every game hurts, but as we get closer to the end of the season, it hurts a little more, just knowing that there's no looking back and this is it for me as well as the other seniors," he said. "Every game is going to hurt a little bit more."
It was no solace for Rumph that he had a career-best 10 tackles, including one for a loss, one of six for the UK defense.
"I don't try to pay attention to stats," he said. "I just try to do my job and pull out a win for my brothers and my teammates."
Avery Williamson, a fellow senior defensive player, said it's "remarkable" to see how hard guys like Rumph are still playing. Williamson wasn't too bad himself on Saturday with six tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.
"We don't have anything to play for now, but our team, these guys come out here each week still playing hard, still going for the win," Williamson said. "I salute them for coming out and trying each week."
A lack of bowl to play for didn't affect how Rumph played this week and it won't in the next two, he said.
"You can't just give up because your season's not going the way you want it to," he said. "So I can't give up on my teammates, so I'm going to come out and give my hardest every day."
Kentucky had a chance to tie the game 9-9 in the third quarter on a 47-yard Joe Mansour field goal, but Coach Mark Stoops opted to fake the field goal instead.
Holder Jared Leet grabbed the ball to go, but was pushed back for minus-2 yards.
"Obviously, bad call in hindsight," Stoops said. "If I could do it over again, I would, but I can't and that's the way it goes."
Stoops noted that he made the call based on the wind blowing toward Mansour, whose career long is a 45-yarder and because the senior kicker had looked "a little off" on his kickoffs.
"I didn't know if he had the pop today to make it," Stoops said. "I thought it was a decent percentage to go for the fake and it didn't work."
Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin was pleased to see his special teams unit ready for the play that UK has run once successfully already this season.
"Our guys were ready because of film study and things we did in practice on that fake field goal," he said. "We had an indicator, which we talked about all week and it turned out exactly how we said it was going to."
Special teams issues
That fake field goal wasn't the only special teams gaffe for the Cats on Saturday. There was the blocked extra point on UK's lone touchdown. It was the second week in a row the Cats' steady special teams unit struggled.
"You know, we've played a lot of good games special teams-wise, and a couple plays here and there weren't good enough," Stoops said.
Also, there was another 13-yard shank for punter Landon Foster, the second of its kind in as many games.
Special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto said he wasn't concerned about Foster and that the sophomore was still going to be UK's punter. Foster made up for the shank with a 59-yarder later in the game. Foster finished with five punts for 173 yards (34.6 average).
"I promise you this, he'll punt great the next two games," Peveto said of Foster. "You say I said that: He'll punt great the next two games. Period."
After committing just four offensive holding calls all season before Saturday, Kentucky had four at Vanderbilt alone. One was especially costly, negating a 45-yard pass from Jalen Whitlow to Jordan Aumiller.
"Summarizes our whole year, right?" Stoops said. "We got a chance there again — got a chance to get it down there and get three or seven. Got a chance and it comes back."
Whitlow said it was difficult to regroup after penalties like that.
"It seemed like it happened too often, but that's the game," he said. "You've got to come back and respond."
Safety Eric Dixon was the first UK player this season to be thrown out of a game per the new targeting rules for what officials said was his head-first hit on Vandy wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Neither Stoops nor defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot was ready to discuss the ejection without looking at the film.
"I didn't really get a good look at it," Eliot said. "I'd have to see the film to see how bad it was."
Stoops said he couldn't tell by watching the big-screen replay.
"I caught a glimpse and the way the rule, the way I understand it, once it's called, it's called — and if any contact goes to the head, he's out," Stoops said.
Vanderbilt defender Caleb Azubike was initially ejected for a targeting call for his hit on UK's Whitlow, but replay overturned the ruling on the field.
"He should have been thrown, but it's not my call," Whitlow said later.
That late touchdown
After Vanderbilt scored a touchdown on a 13-yard jump pass with 47 seconds to play, Stoops appeared to seek out Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin to discuss it.
Stoops said the conversation is private between coaches, but later when pressed admitted that he was bothered that Vandy's Azubike was injured while UK ran out the clock.
"It was a little unfortunate their guy got hurt, because the game would've been over," Stoops said. "I'm always one to take a knee and get out of here when you can. There's no point putting somebody out there — but that's not for me to decide. That's for him to worry about. It's our job to stop it."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.