Date story was published: Sunday, November 9, 1986
News item: Yesterday was the first day of deer hunting season in Kentucky.
Commentary: With all due respect to the state's sharpshooters, it is difficult to believe any Hunter had a better day than the one roaming Commonwealth Stadium.
Kentucky tailback Ivy Joe Hunter rushed for 238 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a more-difficult-than-it-should-have-been 34-22 victory over Vanderbilt.
Never miss a local story.
If not for three lost fumbles, the Wildcats could have waltzed to their first victory in five weeks. As it was, UK rode Hunter, known affectionately as "The Stallion," and his record-threatening performance to a thorough beating of the Southeastern Conference's worst team.
Hunter's touchdowns, on runs of 13, 2, 1 and 6 yards, approached two school records for TDs in a game. William Tuttle had six against Maryville in 1914. Jim Park had five rushing touchdowns against Earlham the same year.
Although Hunter did not break Bob Davis' single-game school record of 281 yards (1937, against Maryville), the sophomore tailback could boast the first 200-yard game since Sonny Collins gained 229 against Mississippi State in 1973.
"Since when?" an astonished Vandy defender, Renford Reese, said. "I knew he was good, but I didn't think he was that good.
"All I can say is we weren't mentally ready to play a physical game."
Vandy, now 1-8 overall and 0-4 in the SEC, apparently expected Kentucky to pass frequently. UK had thrown the ball exactly 100 times in its first three SEC games this season and put up 34 more passes in last week's loss at Virginia Tech.
Quarterback Bill Ransdell passed 56 times at Vanderbilt last season. Yesterday, he threw eight, completing five.
The rainy weather, which along with the game being televised live helped lower attendance to about 30,000, wasn't the reason, Coach Jerry Claiborne said.
"We quit throwing because we weren't having much success with it," Claiborne said. "We were getting sacked or dropping passes or not throwing it well. We decided to go with our running game because it might be more effective."
Efficient might have been a better word.
UK, now 4-4-1 overall and 1-3 in the SEC, ran primarily two plays. The Wildcats ran sweep after sweep. All four of Hunter's touchdowns came on runs around end. Or UK ran draws.
Kentucky gained 342 yards on the ground against the league's eighth-rated team in rushing defense (249.6 yards per game). Put another way, the Cats gained 67 more yards running yesterday than they totaled in three earlier conference games against Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana State combined.
"I didn't think they would be so conservative," Vandy coach Watson Brown said, "and so powerful. I can't remember anybody running just a couple of plays and winning against us. The sprint draw and the sweep. They just flipped a coin. That's fun to call off tackle left, off tackle right. I'm sure the guy over there calling the plays had a lot of fun."
Vandy couldn't have asked for a more promising beginning. For at least the fourth time this season, UK had a bad snap in punt formation. This time it came on the game's first possession. The snap bounced in front of punter Jeff Nelson and bounced off his chest. By the time he recovered the ball and began to retreat, he was tackled for a 25-yard loss at the UK 15.
The next play put Vandy ahead 6-0 with 12:12 remaining in the first quarter. Starting quarterback Tim Richardson hit wide receiver Boo Mitchell on a "fade" pattern. The 15-yard touchdown pass floated over a helpless Tony Mayes. The play was reminiscent of how LSU delicately placed two daggers into the heart of Kentucky's ambitions at the end of that game's first half.
"After I saw his eyes widen, I could tell the ball was coming," said Mayes, who had his back to Richardson. "I couldn't have played better defense. After he caught it, I just thought, 'Dang, I hope we can stop them from now on.' "
As if on command, UK did. Vandy got only two more first downs the rest of the half - one resulting from a questionable roughing-the-punter penalty against Oliver Barnett - and didn't threaten to score again until a generous UK was guilty of two third-quarter fumbles.
"Too bad you don't just play two minutes," Brown said of his team's encouraging beginning. "We might have fun. They beat the fool out of us in all phases."
Meanwhile, in the words of Brown, UK began running the ball "right down our throats."
The Cats went ahead on a pass-less 10-play, 62-yard drive. Hunter picked up a block from wide receiver Dee Smith and took a pitchout around left end for a 13-yard touchdown that put Kentucky ahead 7-6.
Late in the second quarter, Hunter swept left end for another touchdown, this time from 2 yards out. A 26-yard pass to tight end Mark Wheeler set up the score, but it took a fourth-and-goal gamble from the 2 to extend the Cat lead to 13-6. On first-and-goal from the 4-yard line, UK sent fullback Marc Logan up the middle to the 1. On second down, Logan was held to no gain off right tackle. Ransdell missed the handoff on third down and was dropped for a yard loss.
After a timeout with 17 seconds remaining, Ransdell pitched the ball left to Hunter, who scored untouched.
Hunter's 37-yard romp set up a third-quarter score that put UK ahead 20-6. Logan did the honors, sweeping right end untouched from 9 yards out. It was Kentucky's third straight touchdown without allowing a Vandy player to lay a hand on the runner.
"Our offensive line did a helluva job," Ransdell said. "We could have run three abreast at times."
Just when it seemed Kentucky might roll up a monumental victory, Wildcat fumbles and a Vandy offensive switch made the game close.
Ransdell fumbled away a snap at the Vandy 38 to stop UK on its first possession after Logan's touchdown. The Commodores capitalized, driving 62 yards behind the wishbone offense directed by backup quarterback Eric Jones. Vandy ran fullback Billy Rolfe eight straight times in one stretch. Rolfe entered the game with only 11 carries all season, but he had a 1-yard touchdown that made it 20-13.
"We had been prepared for the wishbone," defensive captain Tom Wilkins said. "But at that stage of the game, our guys were geared to stopping the pass."
Three plays later, Vandy got a chance to get closer when Mark Higgs fumbled after catching a pass. Vandy took over at the UK 32, but had to settle for a 41-yard field goal.
To clinch the victory, UK called on Hunter. A 44-yard run, in which he jumped over a prone Logan and later a Vandy tackler, fueled the first of Kentucky's two 62-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Hunter capped the first by taking a pitchout around right end from 1 yard out.
Later, after Jay Dortch's interception gained possession and a 24-yard pass to Wheeler got it close, Hunter swept 6 yards around left end for his fourth touchdown.
"The holes were there, that's all I can say," Hunter said. "We stuck to our game plan. That's why we won."