Date story was published: Sunday, November 5, 1995
NASHVILLE -- Outside, the face on the Vanderbilt Stadium scoreboard showed Vanderbilt 14, Kentucky 10.
Inside, Chris Ward's face showed shock. Headphones hung from the neck of Kentucky's junior defensive end as he stood beneath the stands. But if music played anywhere near it was not for him to hear. Static ruled his airwave.
"We should have won that game," he said, shaking his head over and over. "Vanderbilt just comes to play against us, I don't know why. We should win these games."
Billy Jack Haskins' face showed pain. And the discomfort was not entirely from the flesh-colored wrap around Kentucky quarterback's separated left shoulder, tucked underneath his blue jacket. No painkiller could dull this.
"We just made too many mistakes," he said. "It's hard to explain."
Bill Curry's face showed the daze of distraction. Outside the closet that doubled as the post-game media room, gleeful Vanderbilt fans were celebrating the Commodores' first win of the season. But inside, the door closed, UK's head coach appeared oblivious to the noise, his mind on many things. None of them good.
"This is something we'll have to contend with," he said.
This is tough to face: Five straight.
Unable to break its star tailback Moe Williams' loose, or cash in on scoring opportunities, or hold the host Commodores when it counted most, Kentucky lost yesterday for the fifth straight year to traditional SEC doormat Vanderbilt, a team that had not won a game since beating UK a year ago.
Backup quarterback Damian Allen hit wideout Kenny Simon for a 27-yard touchdown with 11:10 to play and the Commodore defense made it stand as new coach Rod Dowhower got his first win and Vandy snapped the nation's longest losing streak at nine and, as a result, put Curry's job status in definite doubt.
"This is just what the doctor ordered," said Vandy tailback Jermaine Johnson.
Never mind that the Commodores were 0-7, that their offense had scored just six touchdowns all season, that their defense had forced but four turnovers over the past six games, that they had not led in a single game since the season opener against Alabama.
The opponent was Kentucky, a team the 'Dores had dominated over the past four seasons, outscoring the Cats' 73-27, holding Curry's team to no more than seven points on each occasion.
"For us to move up in our program, we have to beat Vanderbilt," Curry said this week.
Instead, his Cats dropped their third straight game and fell to 3-6 overall and 2-5 on the season. Curry himself fell to 21-44 as the Cat coach, including an embarrassing 1-5 versus Vandy. Not since 1946-50 when they beat Auburn five straight have the 'Dores so dominated an SEC foe.
"I think it's significant," Curry admitted afterward when asked the dimensions of the defeat. "This is a game we certainly had a very good chance to win, coming off of what we've come off the last two weeks. It's something we'll have to contend with. . . . This was a game we very much needed to win."
But the Cats did not, because:
Williams, averaging 140.5 yards per game, was held to 54 yards on 18 carries. It was his lowest output since the season opener against Louisville, when as a reserve, Williams carried just nine times. After rushing for 238 yards, including three runs of 50 or more yards last week at Mississippi State, Williams' longest jaunt yesterday was 10 yards.
"The guys up front played hard," Williams said. "They kept telling me the cutback was there, but I couldn't see it. Maybe it was my fault."
The Kentucky defense allowed two crucial drives, one early, one late. Vandy took the opening kickoff and marched 70 yards, with Johnson, playing with a considerable thigh bruise, going 1 yard for a touchdown for a 7-0 lead. Twice the Commodores converted on third down.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, down 10-7 and with starting quarterback Ronnie Gordon out with a separated shoulder, Allen moved the 'Dores 68 yards on nine plays, including the 27-yard scoring strike to Simon, over a UK blitz, for what proved to be the game-winner.
Or maybe the game-winner came on a third-and-17 from midfield when Allen, unable to find a receiver, took off and scrambled 23 yards to a first down at the Kentucky 27. Two plays later, he found Simon with a perfect spiral for the score.
"I lost the ball at first," Simon said. "But then it was just over my shoulder, so I reached up and caught it."
Kentucky, meanwhile, could manage just 146 yards of offense against a defense giving up 375 a game. Two Commodore turnovers begat UK's 10 points. But early in the second quarter, after a fumble recovery had given UK the ball at the Vandy 20, Haskins was hit while trying an option pitch to Williams. Vandy's Eric Vance fell on the loose ball. Haskins left the game with a separated shoulder.
Jeff Speedy, who had not played since the season's second game, entered and hit Craig Yeast with a 14-yard touchdown pass to tie the score 7-7 at halftime. And when Haskins came back in the second half, then left again when the pain in his left shoulder grew worse, Speedy came in again for UK's final drive. The drive to avoid that number five.
Instead, it proved unavoidable. On third-and-14, from the Vandy 49, Commodore tackle James Manley knocked down a Speedy pass. On fourth down, flushed out of the pocket, Speedy overthrew Yeast in the end zone.
End of game. Not end of streak. Five straight.
Said Allen, "We wanted this game more than the others, to keep the tradition of beating Kentucky going."
It's a tough fact to face.