Joker Phillips had seen enough. He had already grown weary of watching his team slumber through lethargic first halves week after week. And now, with the season perhaps on the line, the Cats were again sleepwalking and trailed Vanderbilt 13-10 at halftime.
So Phillips and the rest of the UK coaching staff walked into the locker room briefly before deciding to take a hike.
"We put it on the team," Phillips said. "We told them, 'Don't come out if you're not ready to play inspired football.' "
"The coaches just left," senior running back Derrick Locke confirmed.
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"They were just like, 'Hey, if ya'll don't want to win, ya'll just stay in here.' "
That's when senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin decided to stand up and lay into his teammates with an expletive-filled tirade. It was a bit out of character for Lumpkin, one of the more pleasant personalities on the squad but, with bowl eligibility in the balance, Lumpkin said he felt it was necessary.
"I'm a guy that doesn't like to talk too much to my teammates because I feel like, if you're on them all the time, whether you're a coach or a player, people start ignoring you," Lumpkin said. "This is one of those times I was like, 'Bleep it. I'm going to say what's on my mind.'
"Vanderbilt looked like the team that was playing for a bowl game. We looked like a team that was packing it in, trying to go home for Christmas."
Lumpkin's teammates got the message, obviously, because the Wildcats were an entirely different team in the second half. UK pushed Vanderbilt around for the final two quarters, outscoring them 28-7 to post a 38-20 win in front of a Senior Day crowd of 60,391 at Commonwealth Stadium.
"(Lumpkin) gave us a speech that we needed to hear," Locke said. "And we responded."
"When that happened, we knew it was time to take care of business," offensive tackle Brad Durham said about Lumpkin's halftime rant.
In addition to sending its 16 seniors out with a win in their home finale, UK is now bowl-eligible for the fifth straight season. Kentucky (6-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) has a week off to prepare for the regular-season finale at Tennessee.
"I'm proud of this senior group," Phillips said. "We talked last night. They didn't want to let this thing go. They want to be a part of this thing as long as they possibly can. The only way they can be here any longer is to get ourselves into an extra game, and they went out and did that."
After the game, Phillips said he wasn't sure who did the talking in the locker room, but he was glad it happened.
"We talked about 'juice,' " Phillips said. "I came in with juice before the game. Coach (Greg) Nord, Coach Rock (Oliver), we can have as much juice as we want. If they don't have juice, it really, really doesn't matter. The second half, I thought they came out and played with juice. Defensively, we knocked them back in the second half. We felt like we were losing the battles up front on both sides of the ball. That's where we won it, up front, in the second half."
The turnaround in the statistics tells a big part of the story.
Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6) came into the game as the Southeastern Conference's worst offense, ranked 115th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in passing offense, and was down to its fourth-string running back because of injuries. But the Commodores outgained UK 242 yards to 210 in the first half, and had one drive that took just three plays and 40 seconds as Larry Smith hit Jonathan Krause for 53 yards and Udom Umoh for 18 yards before scoring on a 4-yard keeper to make it 13-10 Vandy 7:25 before halftime.
But in the second half, Kentucky held Vandy to just 158 yards while piling up 370 of its own, thanks to the brilliance of Randall Cobb.
Cobb racked up 286 all-purpose yards, including a career-high 170 rushing on just 10 carries. Included in that total were a pair of scintillating runs. He quickly erased the Cats' halftime deficit when he took a handoff from the Wildcat formation, broke through the middle of the line and sprinted 73 yards up the right sideline to put UK ahead 17-13 at 12:48 of the third quarter.
Later in the period, operating again out of the Wildcat, Cobb was flushed out of the pocket, reversed field three times, headed for the left sideline, cut back near midfield to the right and raced 52 yards to the Vanderbilt 30. That set up Locke's 1-yard TD run that gave the Cats some breathing room at 24-13 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats lost an opportunity to close the door completely when Locke was stuffed on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 early in the fourth quarter. But UK tacked on an insurance touchdown when Chris Matthews got behind the Vanderbilt defense and quarterback Mike Hartline hit him in stride for a 55-yard touchdown to make it 31-13 with 10:53 remaining. Locke then scored on an 83-yard run with 5:38 to go.
In addition to Cobb's heroics, UK's core of senior offensive stars all had big days.
Locke carried 22 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
Hartline went 15-for-23 passing for 232 yards and a touchdown, and Matthews had a team-high five catches for 97 yards and a score.
None of it might have been possible if not for Lumpkin's halftime inspiration.
"Collins Ukwu came up to me and said, 'Man, that was a nice Friday Night Lights speech.' I'm just glad it worked. In the second half, it turned. They took it to heart, and we played our Kentucky second-half football like we usually do."