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UK FALLS FLAT AS VANDY ENDS 23-GAME SEC LOSING STREAK

Date published: Sunday, November 16, 2003

NASHVILLE -- Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks had just settled in his chair at Vanderbilt Stadium to address the media when a sheet with final statistics from yesterday's game made its way to the podium.

"Do they have a stat for ass-kicking?" Brooks responded.Maybe not officially, but it's not like anybody needed a stat sheet to draw that conclusion.

Vanderbilt, which entered the game with a 1-9 record and in the midst of a 23-game Southeastern Conference losing streak, handed Kentucky, which still held out hopes for qualifying for a bowl, a 28-17 loss yesterday in front of a partisan-UK crowd of 26,440.

The scene at the final horn told the entire story: The Vanderbilt student body stormed the field and tore down both goal posts, while the stunned UK players headed back to the locker room with their heads down.

"This win , of course, builds a lot of confidence for our players," Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson said. "I'm glad to see I don't have to answer any more questions about the streak."

Kentucky (4-6, 1-5 SEC) must win both of its final regular-season games against Georgia and Tennessee just to qualify for a bowl.

As for Brooks, his explanation was simple: His team wasn't ready to play.

And Brooks took full responsibility.

"You've got to give Vandy credit," Brooks said. "They obviously felt that this game was more important than I was able to convince my team how important it was. That's my responsibility. We just got our ass kicked for 60 minutes."

The fact that Vandy won the game wasn't all that surprising. But the relatively easy manner in which it did was.

The UK defense helped turn Vandy's quarterback into the superstar of the day.

Jay Cutler, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound sophomore, kept the Wildcats off balance, completing 14 of 17 passes for 175 yards and a career-high four TD passes while running for an additional 129 yards.

And Vanderbilt used a series of pressure packages to disrupt quarterback Jared Lorenzen and the UK offense, sacking him four times and forcing an interception just before halftime.

"We just had no consistency to what we were doing," Brooks said.

Brooks said he first sensed his team was flat in pre-game warm-ups.

"Guys were making mistakes, dropping balls, not hustling, not flying around," Brooks said. "We looked like we were in the Twilight Zone."

Despite another slow start, Kentucky was able to strike first courtesy of a 36-yard field goal by Taylor Begley with 2:05 remaining in the opening quarter.

That was the last UK lead of the game. Cutler immediately marched Vandy 80 yards in nine plays and was able to escape pressure from Deion Holts and hit Erik Davis in the flat. Davis avoided cornerback Bo Smith and carried safety Muhammad Abdullah into the end zone for a 24-yard play and 7-3 Vandy lead.

After UK's next drive stalled on its own 13 following back-to-back sacks of Lorenzen, the Cats were whistled for fair-catch interference on the punt return, setting Vandy up at the Wildcats' 38.

It took Cutler four plays to get Vandy in the end zone, as he hit Matthew Tant on the left flat for what turned into a 17-yard TD play and a 14-3 Vandy cushion with 1:44 left in the first half.

Kentucky got itself in scoring position just before intermission, driving to the Vandy 23. But Lorenzen was hit as he attempted a pass on first down, and the ball floated right into the hands of Kelechi Ohanaja at the Vandy 13.

The Cats, who have been hanging their hat as being a second-half team all season, allowed Vanderbilt to march 80 yards in six plays.

Cutler found a wide-open Marlon White behind the UK secondary for a 43-yard touchdown strike and a 21-3 lead three minutes into the third period.

"The interception was a huge, huge play because we finally looked like we had a little life in making a drive down the field," Brooks said. "But bigger than that is that Vanderbilt comes out and gashes us right down the field on the opening drive of the second half."

Arliss Beach, who ran for a career-high 109 yards, scored on a 4-yard run to make it 21-10 with 7:03 left in the third, but it took Cutler just two minutes and some change to get the Commodores back on the board.

A quarterback draw netted 51 yards to the UK 29. Four plays later, Cutler hit Davis on a crossing route for a 10-yarder that put Vandy up 28-10 with 4:40 left in the third period.

Forget the seven-overtime marathon loss to Arkansas or the come-from-ahead defeat to Florida. Brooks called it the most disappointing loss of the season.

"With what was on the line for us, the way we came out and played makes me sick to my stomach," Brooks said. "It is a simple case that Coach Johnson had his team more ready to play than I had mine ready to play.

"There wasn't much to figure out about the importance of this football game, in my opinion. But obviously I didn't communicate that and get them ready to play."

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