It’s not Halloween just yet, but Vanderbilt’s visit to Commonwealth Stadium this Saturday dredges up some old ghosts for Mark Stoops.
“Does last year’s Vanderbilt game hurt? Absolutely,” the Kentucky coach said earlier this week. “It bothers me. It’ll probably bother me for the rest of my life.”
Kentucky brought a 4-5 record to Nashville for its 2015 meeting with the 3-6 Commodores. As a three-point favorite, UK needed only a win over Vanderbilt and a win the next week over visiting Charlotte (which it earned 58-10) to clinch the program’s first bowl bid since 2010.
And yet, despite outgaining Vanderbilt 352-301, the Cats managed to lose 27-21 to the Commodores and finished the season 5-7, home again for the holidays.
▪ With Kentucky up 3-0 in the first quarter, linebacker Khalid Henderson recovers a fumble by Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb at the Commodores’ 39-yard line. Two plays later, Boom Williams rips off a 38-yard run for first-and-goal at the one.
But Kentucky fails to score. On first down, with UK in the shotgun, Williams is stopped for no gain. On second down, Patrick Towles' pass for Dorian Baker is foiled by miscommunication and falls incomplete. On third down, Williams is again stopped for no gain. On fourth down, Towles’ quarterback sneak is stopped short of the goal line.
▪ Next possession, Williams fumbles away the football at Kentucky’s four-yard line. The next play, Vanderbilt scores on a four-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-3 lead with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.
▪ Early in the second quarter, Kentucky recovers a fumbled punt at the Vanderbilt three-yard line for another golden scoring opportunity. And again, UK fails to score. On second-and-goal, Towles’ fade pass to Baker in the right corner of the end zone is intercepted by Vandy’s Oren Burks.
▪ With Kentucky leading 10-7, Burks makes his second interception of the game, picking off a Drew Barker pass intended for Garrett Johnson and returning it 30 yards for a Vanderbilt touchdown and a 14-10 Commodores lead with 5:10 left in the first half.
▪ Next possession, Kentucky faces a fourth-and-one just across midfield at the Vanderbilt 49-yard line. Confusion reigns on the UK sideline -- it appeared that Stoops and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson were unsure about whether to try and draw Vandy offsides, call timeout or run a play -- before finally a rushed snap leads to an off-target throw from Barker to Blake Bone.
Vanderbilt takes over on downs. Five snaps later, with just 37 seconds left in the half, Commodores’ coach Derek Mason executes the lonesome-end play. Vandy had called timeout with 43 seconds left. Coming out of the timeout, wide receiver Caleb Scott jogged toward the sideline but stopped while still on the field. Uncovered, Scott streaked down the left sideline and caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Shurmur to give Vanderbilt a 21-10 lead at the half.
▪ After Kentucky scored on a Jojo Kemp two-yard touchdown run with 1:06 left in the third quarter to cut Vandy’s lead to 21-17, UK missed a chance to pull within a point when Austin MacGinnis missed a 37-yard field goal wide left with 10:21 remaining in the game.
▪ Next possession, Landon Foster’s punt was blocked. That squandered any chance Kentucky had for good field position the rest of the way. With 5:30 remaining, UK took over on its own 13 and went three-and-out. The Cats didn’t get the ball back until just 10 seconds remaining. With the ball at UK’s 22-yard line, Towles was sacked and the game was over.
My column from Nashville last year was unsparing, especially with regards to the coaching job that day.
“This Music City heartbreaker wasn’t just a winnable game; this was a game Kentucky should have won if not for some questionable decision-making and baffling disorganization. And it’s made all the more troubling by the fact that it isn’t new.”
We’ll see what happens this Saturday.
Last 10 Kentucky-Vanderbilt football games