NASHVILLE — It started with a simple text from Kentucky head coach for offense Joker Phillips asking tailback Derrick Locke whether he could throw the ball.
Locke, never one lacking confidence, had a quick response.
"Man, if you want to throw the ball, let's throw the ball," Locke said.
The end result was the biggest pass play of the day in Kentucky's 24-13 win over Vanderbilt. With UK lined up in the Wildcat formation with Randall Cobb at quarterback, Locke took the handoff, rolled right and lofted the ball downfield to regular quarterback Morgan Newton, who was split out wide. Newton brought the ball in and ran 41 yards to the Vandy 21, setting up Cobb's touchdown run on the next play.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Locke said it didn't go too well the first time he threw the ball in practice but gradually got better through the week.
"Just make sure he can catch it," Locke said. "Not overthrow him, not do anything stupid. And he made a play. What people don't understand is that I was a quarterback until my senior year of high school. I'm used to throwing the ball."
UK Coach Rich Brooks said the play was just put in last week.
"They don't respect the quarterback very much (lined up wide), and we felt that it would be there," Brooks said. "I was a little disappointed we didn't score on it, but I think Morgan was so concerned about just catching it."
Locke noted that he's now a 100 percent career passer.
"He's already asking me to throw the ball again," Phillips said.
Hartline struggles in return
Junior quarterback Mike Hartline had a rough return after missing four games with a knee injury.
He played in three series off the bench, going 2-for-6 for 10 yards with an interception.
Hartline appeared to be favoring the knee on several occasions.
"It hurt, I'm not going to lie about that," Hartline said. "It's just a matter of how much pain you can deal with."
Brooks said he'll have to evaluate whether Hartline will be healthy enough to finish the season. Hartline's initial ligament injury has healed, but he's still dealing with some torn cartilage in the knee.
"We'll take a look and see how that knee is holding up," Brooks said. "We'll see if we can get him through (the next two weeks) or maybe we have to do something, I don't know. We'll just have to see how his knee feels."
When asked about the possibility of shutting it down, Hartline said, "We'll have to figure it out. That's the biggest question for me right now. Our offense is in a great rhythm right now. If we continue to do well like this, you never want to have a quarterback controversy, so we're just going to have to figure it out."
Special teams shine
Kentucky had one of its best all-around special teams performances of the season.
Punter Ryan Tydlacka had a career day with a 45.2-yard average on five punts. That included a key 58-yarder in the fourth quarter that helped the Cats control field position late.
Kickoff man Craig McIntosh had three touchbacks for the second week in a row, and UK held dangerous Vandy returner Warren Norman to 38 yards on two returns.
Lones Seiber also hit his only field-goal attempt from 36 yards and made all three of his extra points.
Big Blue Crush begins
The annual Big Blue Crush, a yearly blood-drive competition between Kentucky and Tennessee football fans, runs Monday through Friday this week.
All donors will receive a free menu item from McDonald's and a Big Blue Crush T-shirt. In addition, anyone who registers to donate on Monday or Tuesday will be entered in a drawing to win a Nintendo Wii. Presenting donors Wednesday through Friday will be eligible to win a football autographed by Coach Rich Brooks.
Big Blue Crush helps to ensure an adequate blood supply for the holiday season, a time when people tend to donate less because of travel and holiday celebrations.
The goal this year is for 4,000 Kentucky fans to register to give blood. Tennessee leads the competition 11-9-1.
Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds, be in general good health and have a photo ID. To make an appointment or find a donation location, call 1-800-775-2522 or visit kybloodcenter.org.