Date story was published: Sunday, November 7, 1993
NASHVILLE -- They jammed I-65 South yesterday morning, with their blue-and- white "K" flags and their Kentucky tags -- RU4UK2 read the license plate of one blue mini-van -- a virtual Cat caravan cruising toward an expected celebration in Music City.
Then they invaded Vanderbilt Stadium, placing the home Commodore fans in the minority, settled back into their seats and waited for the party to start.
It never did.
There was only this: Vanderbilt 12, Kentucky 7.
"Same old Kentucky. Same old Kentucky," came the post-game chant inside the Vanderbilt locker room. "Same old Kentucky."
And so it was, at least when it comes to playing Vanderbilt. For the third consecutive season, Bill Curry's Cats turned up both puzzling and powerless against Gerry DiNardo's Commodores, locked into a low-scoring defensive struggle with an immobile offense.
With the score tied at 7 late in the final quarter, Vandy's backup tailback Cliff Deese made the play of the day, amazingly springing free from what had appeared to be a gang tackle, then motoring for a 48-yard run that set up Steve Yenner's 21-yard field goal, giving the Commodores a 10-7 lead with 2:29 remaining.
When Kentucky then took over on its own 20 with 2:20 left, the Cats proceeded to go backward in four plays, three of them sacks, with quarterback Pookie Jones finally being buried by Commodore defensive end Alan Young in the end zone for a safety, which sealed the Vandy victory.
"Unfortunately for us, it was what has come to be a typical Kentucky-Vanderbilt game," Curry said. "We played very poorly offensively, simply could not make the plays when we needed them. That's the story of the game."
Indeed, the UK offense managed a season-low 230 total yards. It threw for a measly 47 yards. Three different possessions it was inside the Vanderbilt 30- yard line only to come away with a goose egg, twice missing field goals (one from 38 yards, the other from 31) and once failing to make a first down on a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1 at the Commodore 21.
Yet this was supposed to be a different story. True, DiNardo's troops handled the Cats easily each of the past two years, holding Kentucky to 216 yards on the way to a 17-7 win in 1991, then limiting the Cats to a miserly 123 yards last year in a 20-7 drubbing at Commonwealth Stadium.
But this Kentucky was different, was better, was 5-3 coming to Vanderbilt Stadium. This Kentucky appeared on the verge of its first bowl trip since 1984. Under the SEC post-season agreements, it seemed destined for a New Year's Eve date in the Peach Bowl.
Instead, the Cats lost the Commodore Bowl, to a Vanderbilt team that was 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the conference. In fact, the Commodores had scored just 26 points in their four conference games, had been (and still are) the only Division I-A team not to throw a touchdown pass all year, had lost by 42 to Ole Miss, by 38 to Georgia.
"We were their bowl game," said UK center Wes Jackson.
And Vandy won their bowl the same way it has beaten Kentucky the last three years, whipping the Cats up front, especially along UK's offensive line.
"It's very difficult to understand," Curry said. "We handle other lines that are just as good or better and do not play well against them. It's a mystery to me obviously because I have certainly been trying to solve it for four years."
Not that the Vandy offense was a juggernaut. The Commodores gained but 284 total yards, their only touchdown came from the defense when cornerback Robert Davis picked off a tipped Pookie Jones pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown with 11:09 left in the second quarter.
For the longest time that looked like it would be enough. But finally, with 12:12 left in the game, UK's Adrian Sherwood picked off a Ronnie Gordon pass and returned it 10 yards to the Vandy 30. Five plays later, Moe Williams scored from a yard out. And with 10:19 to play, Curry elected to kick the extra point for the tie. "You always do that," Curry said. "And then you force them to try and do something."
Vandy did, in bizarre fashion, Deese somehow breaking free for his long, and, ultimately, game-winning run. "Me, personally, I thought we had him down," said UK defensive end Howard Carter. "I thought he was tackled."
"I think a guy came in and tried to blast him, and knocked everybody else off the play or something," said linebacker Marty Moore. "We had him. There were four or five guys there. All of a sudden I get up off the ground and he's running down the field. I didn't know what the hell happened."
He was not alone. Too much bowl talk? "Probably," Curry said, "but that's something that's hard to get your teeth into. Certainly we're not going to cop out and blame it on that. You have to get yourself ready no matter what's going on."
Overconfidence? "It was too evident that they whipped us the last two years for us to be overconfident," Curry said.
It was just Vanderbilt. "The Florida game was worse," said Moore when asked if this was the toughest loss of the year. "This one, you could sort of see coming."
Even if the Cat caravan did not.