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NIGHTMARE ON COOPER DRIVE 5: UK FALLS 24-6

Date story was published: Sunday, November 6, 1994

The good news: There are two games left in this UK football season.

The bad news: There are two games left in this UK football season.

In what has been a Cat-astrophe of a grid campaign, Kentucky burrowed even deeper into the record books yesterday, setting a school record with its fifth straight home defeat, a 24-6 loss to visiting Vanderbilt.

Bill Curry's 1-8 team turned the ball over five times -- three of which led to Vanderbilt scores -- in tying a school record with its eighth straight loss overall, and fourth straight loss to the Commodores, this time by the largest series margin since Vandy blitzed John Ray and UK 42-6 in 1969.

Only an after-the-fact touchdown with 47 seconds left kept the home team from the embarrassment of being shut out by the now dominating 'Dores for the first time in 26 years.

But then one could make an argument this is Kentucky's worst football team since that '69 club lost half of its games by 27 or more points. Even Jerry Claiborne's winless 1982 club lost to Vandy by just 23-10. It also lost just four in a row at home.

"It's hard to deal with," said UK strong safety Melvin Johnson, a bright light in a season of darkness. "You're out there losing to a team you know you can beat."

Turnovers brought yesterday's defeat. Quarterback Jeff Speedy tossed three interceptions, and the Cats lost two fumbles -- one a blown call by the officials when Kio Sanford was ruled to have touched a punt when TV replays showed he clearly did not; the other when Moe Williams legitimately fumbled the ball away at the Vandy 13-yard line early in the fourth quarter with his team trailing 16-0.

"In a game like this you can invariably glance at one stat and see who won," Curry said. "That's turnovers."

Vanderbilt did not lose the ball once. Gerry DiNardo's young (just three seniors on the roster) and disciplined team got 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns from tailback Jermaine Johnson, 96 rushing yards and one score from quarterback Ronnie Gordon. The 'Dores completed just one of 10 passes, for all of three yards, yet improved to 5-4 overall and 2-4 in the league.

"There was a confidence factor coming into this game," Gordon said. "The fact that we have beaten Kentucky several years in a row probably helped us."

The Cats hoped that would help them. Shaking the embarrassing grip of the usual 'Dore-mats of the SEC would have added a touch of salve to this one-win season. "The fellows really wanted to win this game," said linebacker Chad Hudson. "Especially for the seniors."

Hudson and his defensive mates started well enough, forcing the SEC's most productive, if not boring, ground game into four consecutive punts to start the contest.

But the UK offense could not release its own parking brake, matching punts, until two minutes into the second quarter when Commodore corner Corey Chavous, a true freshman, picked off a Speedy pass at the UK 32. Four plays later, Johnson weaved 10 yards into the end zone to make it 7-0.

The score remained the same at the half, even though officials erroneously ruled a bouncing punt had struck Sanford before the Commodores fell on the ball at the UK 36. The Cat defense actually forced Steve Yenner to miss a 47- yard field goal.

"The first half we played like we know we can play," said linebacker Donte Key. "But we slacked off the second half."

The Cats' season of giving did not slack off. First possession of the second half, UK drove from its 14 to the Vandy 35 when Speedy's low pass for Chris Davis bounced off the diving tight end's hands -- without hitting the ground, TV replays showed -- and into the hands of Vandy safety Matt Anderson.

The redshirt freshman rambled 50 yards with his gift. A strange illegal block penalty against UK tacked on 10 more yards, giving Vandy a first-and- goal at the 9. Kentucky held, but Yenner hit a 23-yard field goal to make it 10-0.

"A tremendous momentum shift," Curry said.

Soon the shift was a mudslide. Next Commodore possession, Johnson rambled 25 yards to the UK 12. Two snaps later, the 5-foot-7 back squirted 8 yards for his second score. Yenner missed the extra point, but the lead was 16-0.

Then, after Anderson recovered Williams' red-zone fumble, Vandy marched 87 yards in 10 plays to deliver the final nail. Gordon shook loose for a 36-yard sprint to the UK 9.

"My biggest disappointment was that we didn't do a better job stopping the quarterback when we knew he was going to keep it on the option," Curry said.

Gordon, by the way, kept it himself from 2 yards out for the touchdown. Then, just to shake things up a little, he pitched it to Eric Lewis, who sprinted into the end zone for the two-point conversion, making it 24-0.

The only glitch in Vandy's day was losing a chance at its first shutout since 1985, its first blanking of an SEC foe since giving -- you guessed it -- UK a goose egg, 6-0, in 1968. Speedy hit Isaac Curtis on a 21-yard scoring pass to smudge the icing on Vandy's cake.

But make no mistake, the Commodores' own the cake -- and the Cats.

"It should have been an even game," Curry said. "But should-have-beens are the story of our season."

A sad story.

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