John Clay

Vandy puts capper on UK's lost weekend

John Clay
John Clay

Talk about a bad 24 hours to be a Kentucky fan.

Not even Jack Bauer could save the day on these past 24.

Start with freaky Friday night, when tiny VMI came to town and rocked the giant Cats, ripping-and-running, penetrating-and-pitching, nailing three-pointers from infinity and beyond, then dancing off the Rupp Arena floor in celebration of a shocking win over (for now) college basketball's winningest program.

Then Saturday night, approximately 24 hours later, there were the Vanderbilt Commodores dancing off the Commonwealth Stadium field in celebration of the school's first six-win season since 1982, thanks to a 31-24 victory over the Wildcats.

Did we mention that UK hoops, the women's basketball team, lost by 10 points to Michigan in its season opener at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday afternoon? Thank goodness Kentucky is a volleyball school.

(Note: It's up to you, UK volleyball Cats, Sunday at 1:30 against 12th-ranked Florida in Memorial.)

As for football, well, the coach of the basketball Cats, Billy Gillispie, might have summed it up for both when he said Friday night, "We just got whipped."

Yes, the grid Cats made a nice little comeback in the second half against Vandy. Yes, they reached the Commodore 23-yard line with just over two minutes to play, a tying touchdown within reach, only to see the Commodores' D.J. Moore cap off his stellar evening (two touchdown catches, two interceptions) with a game-clinching pick.

But this game was decided in the first half. Scratch that. This game was decided in the week leading up to the first half, when after four straight years of coming close to but never toppling the Cats, Vandy made up its mind to bring it to Kentucky, and Kentucky failed to respond.

"I obviously did not get my team ready to play," UK Coach Rich Brooks said.

Vandy ran 47 plays the first half. Kentucky ran 15. The Commodores had not scored more than 14 points in any of its last five games. With 2:49 remaining in the first half Saturday night, Vandy scored to go up 21-7.

It was shortly thereafter that Brooks made what he called a "bad coaching decision," electing to go for it on fourth-and-eight from the Vandy 44-yard line. Three plays before, punter Tim Masthay had picked up UK's initial first down on a 17-yard run off a fake punt. Brooks wanted to get points out of the fake. And he did.

Vanderbilt's points.

Cobb's fourth-down pass fell incomplete. The Dores' drove, kicked a field goal and led 24-7 at intermission.

Brooks' move was hardly a solitary blunder. Twice his team was called for roughing the punter. In a key second-half play, and call, a David Jones interception was negated by a roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Micah Johnson, who gave Vandy quarterback Chris Nickson a less-than-malicious but certainly unnecessary shove after the throw.

Here's a stat for those wishing to blame the refs: Vandy outgained UK 368-241. But then maybe Johnson was just frustrated from all that chasing. Nickson rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries. He threw for 155 yards on three scores.

"Nickson had a field day on us," Brooks said. A day/night that made for a nightmarish 24 hours.

Not to fear, thanks to the SEC's deep bench of bowl ties, Kentucky (6-5) is guaranteed a bowl spot. But any chance at the New Year's Day Outback Bowl is probably now out the window. And a shot at the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve in Atlanta could be hanging by a thread, what with a trip to Tennessee for Phil Fulmer Appreciation Day left on the slate.

You might want to Mapquest Memphis. Or Shreveport.

Ah, it could be worse. At least the football Cats have a week to lick their wounds. After its Friday night flop, Billy G.'s group must travel to Chapel Hill on Tuesday night to play the the top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.

Where's Jack Bauer when you need him?