The second quarter came and went on Saturday and Vanderbilt, for a change, wasn’t trailing by 20-plus points.
In fact, the Commodores were clinging to a three point lead at halftime. That advantage quickly evaporated as Kentucky’s Randall Cobb broke off a 73-yard touchdown run just more than two minutes into the third quarter. The Wildcats never looked back from there,and Vanderbilt fell 38-20 in Lexington, Ky. It was the Commodores' fifth straight defeat.
Cobb finished with 175 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Running back Derrick Locke, in his first game back since injuring his shoulder on Oct. 9, added 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns for Kentucky (6-5, 2-5 SEC), which became bowl eligible with the win.
"Quite a first half," Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell said. "I’m very proud of them. Our team fought hard. We had a great chance. We were in it. We were ahead 13-10 a couple years ago when we came up here at the same point and we were able to get it done. Today we weren’t quite able to get it done. The second half collapse was very difficult to sit there and watch."
Each of the last two weeks Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6) watched as close games turned into blowouts in the second quarter. Arkansas scored 26 points and Florida dropped 34 points in the second period.
It was the third quarter that doomed the Commodores at Kentucky. After Cobb’s long run Locke tacked on the eventual game-winner with a 1-yard touchdown run which gave Kentucky a 24-13 lead with 5:06 remaining in the third quarter.
Cobb, Kentucky’s versatile wide receiver who many times took the direct snap, rushed for 61 yards on three carries during the drive.
“He is a great player," Commodores' defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone said. "His feet move faster than I have ever seen in my life. There was one time I thought I had him wrapped up, but his feet just kept moving and I couldn’t wrap him up. Hats off to him. We definitely didn't do as well as we wanted to do with him."
Vanderbilt made a goal line stand just more than a minute into the fourth quarter, getting the ball back at its own 1-yard line. But the Commodores couldn’t get further than their own 18 and had to punt. On the first play on the ensuing drive, Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline connected with Chris Matthews for a 55-yard touchdown and an 18-point lead with 11:01 to go.
Hartline was 15-of-23 for 232 passing yards and the Wildcats had 580 total yards of offense.
"Defensively we knocked them back in the second half. We felt like we were losing the battles up front on both sides of the ball," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "At halftime they had rushed for 134 yards against us, averaging about 80, 89 yards, and we had only rushed for 43 yards. You look at the stats at the end of the game, they rushed for 60 something yards in the second half and we rushed for almost 300. That's where we won it, up front, in the second half."
The Commodores had a 6-3 lead with 13:48 left in the first half after Ryan Fowler kicked a 29-yard field goal – his second of the game. It was the first time in more than a month that Fowler had attempted a field goal (Vanderbilt had a chance last week but ran an unsuccessful fake instead).
After the field goal, Kentucky responded with a 13-play, 71-yard drive that took 5:21 and was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown run from Cobb.
Vanderbilt countered with its own scoring drive, but it didn’t take as long. Quarterback Larry Smith completed a 52-yard pass to Jonathan Krause and a 18-yarder to Udom Umoh on back-to-back plays. Smith then ran for a touchdown from four yards out as the Commodores went ahead 13-10 with 7:20 to go in the first half. The drive last just 40 seconds and covered 74 yards in three plays.
Smith was 10-of-26 for 128 passing yards. Jared Funk completed seven of 11 passes for 70 yards.
Vanderbilt had some success on the ground, compiling 202 yards. Fourth-string running back Kennard Reeves had 19 carries for 105 yards. He started in place of the injured Wesley Tate, who had two carries for 3 yards on a sprained ankle. Sophomore tailbacks Warren Norman and Zac Stacy both suffered season-ending injuries in the last two games.
“I have always tried to run hard and run downhill," Reeves said. "I try to never lose yards as well. All I’m trying to do is show the coaches that I can be in the rotation and contribute.”