NASHVILLE -- Last week's open date did not make Kentucky a well-oiled machine against Vanderbilt yesterday. A flurry of penalties, questionable calls and a stout Commodores defense had the Wildcats out of sync for much of the afternoon.
But Rich Brooks' team offset those problems with big plays down the stretch, and the Wildcats outlasted Vandy 27-20 in a sloppy, physical slugfest at Vanderbilt Stadium.
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The UK offense labored for much of the afternoon but scored the go-ahead points on a 4-yard touchdown run by Derrick Locke with 5:58 remaining. Vandy then drove to the Kentucky 15-yard line in the final minute, but Jeremy Jarmon sacked Mackenzi Adams on second down, forcing Adams to spike the ball on third down to stop the clock. Adams then overthrew Justin Wheeler in the end zone, and UK ran out the clock.
The win moved Kentucky to 7-3 overall and 3-3 in the Southeastern Conference, but its East Division title hopes were dashed last night when Florida beat South Carolina.
UK also denied Vanderbilt a win that would have made it bowl-eligible for the first time since 1982.
So forget about the whopping 13 penalties for 122 yards or the fact that UK was outgained 432-351. Brooks will take the victory and run with it.
"To get a win on the road in the SEC against a team playing for post-season play for the first time in 25 years, I have to take my hat off to my guys," Brooks said. "They showed a lot of guts. It wasn't pretty, but it was a hard-fought and well-earned win."
Vanderbilt caused Kentucky all sorts of problems early by pressuring quarterback Andre Woodson. Woodson was sacked three times in the first half, and UK was whistled for three holding penalties.
"They took it to our offensive line in the first half," Brooks said.
Vandy defensive end Broderick Stewart caused Woodson to fumble on a second-quarter sack, giving the Commodores the ball at the Wildcats' 27.
Then things really got bizarre. On third-and-13 from the UK 14, Wildcats cornerback Shomari Moore recognized the defense wasn't lined up right and signaled to the officials for a timeout. Brooks also gestured toward the officials to stop play. But Adams snapped the ball and hit Sean Walker for a 14-yard touchdown.
"Shomari called timeout, and I ran down the field screaming for a timeout, but I guess nobody heard or saw me," Brooks said.
Brooks then stepped on the field to chastise the referees and was whistled for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
"I guess they heard me then," Brooks said.
The teams exchanged long touchdown passes in the second quarter. Woodson hit Steve Johnson for a 55-yard strike to give the Cats a 10-7 lead only to have Adams respond with a 30-yard TD to tight end Jake Bradford off of play-action to put the Commodores back ahead 13-10. (Vandy kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt missed the extra-point attempt.) Lones Seiber's 48-yard field goal four seconds before intermission tied the game at 13.
The game had a bushel of odd plays. Brooks challenged what he thought was a Vanderbilt fumble late in the second quarter but was overruled. Brooks said the officials then came out to start the second half, admitted they made the wrong call and gave him his challenge back.
"I've never had that happen in my life," Brooks said.
"Some strange things happened in that game," Vandy Coach Bobby Johnson said.
Kentucky had its best drive of the game out of the locker room, taking the second-half kickoff and marching 78 yards in 13 plays to take a 20-13 lead on Maurice Grinter's 1-yard run at 9:56 in the third.
The Cats became testy at that point. UK was whistled for pass-interference penalties on consecutive third-and-long plays, and Kentucky safety Ashton Cobb was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for hittingVanderbilt running back Jared Hawkins out of bounds.
Cobb and Brooks said they thought Hawkins was still in bounds, and Brooks said the Cats might have been frustrated with the officiating.
"(Cobb's play) followed two third-down pass-interference calls that upset everybody wearing blue and white," Brooks said. "That wasn't a very good series for us as far as keeping our composure."
Hawkins was forced to leave the game, and suddenly the pro-UK crowd of 39,773 livened up and the players spent much of the rest of the game trash-talking.
"When it hit that point, it became a different ball game," Jarmon said. "Things were already heated, and then their quarterback really started talking. I've never really been in a situation like that before, but we responded when we had to."
The Commodores tied it at 20 on Adams' 7-yard draw with 7:31 remaining, but Woodson hit tight end Jacob Tamme over the middle for a 34-yard gain to the Vandy 6, and Locke, substituting for an injured Rafael Little, scored two plays later.
Vanderbilt converted three fourth-down plays on its final drive, but the Wildcats defense held firm in the red zone to secure the win.
"Things did get tough," Tamme said. "It was a physical, hard-hitting game, and we had a lot of things go against us. But that's when you show your true character. We fought through adversity to get a big win, and I'm proud to say that I was a part of it."
Date story ran: Sunday, November 11, 2007