Late Touchdown Lifts Vanderbilt Past Kentucky
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns, but Vanderbilt scored a late touchdown to upset No. 24 Kentucky 24-21 on Saturday at Kroger Field.
Kentucky (6-4, 3-4 SEC) got the ground game going, behind Rodriguez, rushing for 213 yards on 31 carries. However, UK was not able to do much through the air. Quarterback Will Levis completed just 11 of 23 through the air for 109 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Defensively, D’Eryk Jackson and Justin Rogers led the way with nine tackles each while JJ Weaver had seven stops.
Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5) received the opening kickoff but on the second play from scrimmage, Mike Wright connected with Will Sheppard. However, Sheppard was hit by UK’s JJ Weaver, who caused a fumble that was recovered by Kentucky’s Carrington Valentine. The Cats would take over at the VU 30.
The Cats were not able to do anything with the ensuing possession and were forced to try a 47 yard field goal by Matt Ruffolo, who split the uprights to give Kentucky a 3-0 lead with 13:22 still remaining in the first quarter.
Vanderbilt would answer on its next drive. Wright would scramble, break loose in the middle of the field, and race 59 yards for a touchdown. Joseph Bulovas would add the point after and the Commodores would lead 7-3 with 11:54 still to play in the first.
Kentucky would use a nice mix of run and pass on its next drive to advance into Vandy territory. Levis connected with Tayvion Robinson on a 25-yard strike to get the Cats into scoring position. However, the drive would stall and the Cats would settle for a 27-yard field goal by Ruffolo, drawing Kentucky within a point, 7-6, with 3:33 left in the first quarter.
The first quarter would come to a close with Vanderbilt driving past midfield, holding a 7-6 lead. But as the second period got underway, Wright was intercepted by UK’s Keidron Smith in the end zone, giving the Cats possession at their own 20 with 13:41 to play in the half.
Kentucky would put together a nice drive on the following possession. Levis connected with a pair of former Frederick Douglass High School receivers to get the Cats into VU territory. Levis hit Dane Key for 29 yards and, two plays later, Levis connected with Dekel Crowdus for 15 yards, getting UK to the Vandy 30.
The Cats would get inside the VU 10 on a Rodriguez six-yard rush. But on third and seven from the Vandy nine, Levis was sacked and the Cats would be forced to try a 37-yard field goal. But Ruffolo’s kick was blocked and the Commodores maintained a 7-6 lead with 7:23 left in the half.
The teams would exchange punts and the first half would end on a failed Hail Mary pass by Vanderbilt. But the ‘Dores would lead 7-6 at the break.
Kentucky got the first possession of the second half but, after gaining one first down, the Cats were forced to punt. Vandy took the ensuing possession and, leaning on the run, took the ball into UK territory. Ray Davis had a 45-yard rush to get the ‘Dores to the UK three yard line. Three plays later, Davis went up the middle and into the end zone for a touchdown. Bulovas added the PAT and Vanderbilt led 14-6 with 7:47 left in the third quarter.
Needing a scoring drive, Kentucky went to the ground. UK got a 23-yard rush from Rodriguez, then two yards, and a 15-yard penalty against Vanderbilt, on a rush by JuTahn McClain. Later in the drive, the Cats faced a fourth-and-six from the VU 28 when Levis hit Robinson for an 11-yard gain and a new set of downs.
Kentucky was unable to move the ball from that point and the Cats would settle for a 39-yard Ruffolo field goal to cut the deficit to 14-9 with 3:30 left in the third period. That would be the score at the end of the third.
Early in the fourth, with Vanderbilt driving, the ‘Dores went for it on fourth down, but Wright was chased down by Trevin Wallace and came up short, giving the Cats the ball at their own 34 with 14:13 to play.
The Cats would go to the ground game on the ensuing drive. Rodriguez rushed for 18 yards, then five yards. McClain went for 28 yards to get the Cats to the Vanderbilt 15. Two plays later, Rodriguez rushed left for 10 yards, getting the Cats to the Vandy five.
Two plays later, Rodriguez went up the middle and into the end zone for the Cats’ first touchdown of the day and the 31st of Rodriguez’s career. The Cats would go for two, but Levis would be sacked. But Kentucky led 15-14 with 11:14 to play.
Vandy would answer with an impressive drive. The Commodores would go 67 yards in 12 plays, but the Cats’ defense would hold, forcing a 26-yard Bulovas field goal, which was good, giving VU a 17-15 lead with 5:22 to play.
The lead would not last for long. On Kentucky’s first play from scrimmage on its next drive, Rodriguez went through the middle and down the left sideline for a 72-yard touchdown rush, giving UK a 21-17 lead. The Cats again would go for two and, after a pass interference call gave UK a second chance, McClain went up the middle but did not score, keeping the score 21-17 with 5:03 to play.
Vanderbilt would not go away. The Commodores got a 40-yard completion from Wright to Quincy Skinner to get inside the UK 10. Two plays later, Wright hit Sheppard on an eight-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds to play. Bulovas added the PAT and Vandy led 24-21.
Kentucky would get one final possession but Levis’ heave down the field as intercepted as time expired.
Kentucky returns to action next Saturday, hosting top-ranked Georgia at Kroger Field. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on CBS.