Senior running back Kennard Reeves rushed for over 105 yards for Vanderbilt in making his first career start. But the Commodores had no answer for the offensive firepower of Kentucky, which took over the game in the second half. When the dust had settled, the Vandy defense had surrendered 580 yards.
Looking for any kind of a spark on offense, and without the services of their top two tailbacks, the Commodores came out throwing and attempting a couple of trick plays. They were sparked early by Reeves, who ran with authority, and Smith, who had an exceptionally good first half both throwing and running.
But Vanderbilt's defense seemed to wear down in the second half, and Kentucky's offense, engineered by quarterback Mike Hartline as well as Cobb, seemed to find a groove. The Wildcats hit on several long plays from scrimmage and rolled up nearly 400 yards of offense in the second half alone.
The two teams traded field goals in the first quarter, and Vanderbilt went up 6-3 early in the second on a Ryan Fowler field goal. Kentucky drove 71 yards for a TD to take the lead, with Randall Cobb getting the score on a twisting, 5-yard run off left tackle.
It was at that point the Vanderbilt offense seemed to awaken with a fury. Smith hit Jonathan Krause in stride for a 52-yard gain, then found Udom Umoh open at the 4. Smith then kept the ball up the middle for four yards, and Vanderbilt had taken a 13-10 lead in barely the time it took to blink.
"It was a great feeling going into the locker room at halftime leading. We were all excited ," said Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell. "We felt like we made a few good adjustments, but we couldn't overcome a few things they did in the second half.
"As we started getting tired, we started to get out-athleted."
Vanderbilt got the ball first in the second half, but couldn't score. On a simple run up the middle, Cobb burst through an arm-tackle at the line and sprinted 73 yards for a touchdown. Kentucky took a 17-13 lead and would not trail again.
Cobb's big run seemed to ignite both the crowd and his team. With many multi-talented weapons on offense, the Wildcats scored four second-half touchdowns, while the Commodore offense sputtered.
"We just didn't tackle well, I think that's kind of bottom line ," said linebacker John Stokes. "We had a good scheme, a good plan, we had people there-- it just seemed like we didn't tackle them."
There were a few bright spots in the fourth quarter. For the second time in two weeks, backup quarterback Jared Funk threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to backup wide receiver Jordan Matthews. And the Commodore defense held Kentucky out of the end zone on one of its drives with a goal-line stand.
But Vanderbilt must face the grim fact that it has now been outscored 206-55 in their last five games. Two games remain, both at home, in what has become a dismal season. With injuries mounting and with a fan base growing restless, the Commodores have little left to play for besides pride-- and perhaps the jobs of the current coaching staff.
"All year long we've been putting together good quarters here and there," said T.J. Greenstone. "we played three great quarters of football tonight but that third quarter we lost it."
Ryan Fowler (VM/Don Yates)