Kentucky stopped Vanderbilt on four downs after the Commodores reached first-and-goal at the UK 8-yard line in the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter.
Vandy quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw four incomplete passes, the final one defended by UK safety Blake McClain, as the Wildcats held on for a 20-13 victory at Commonwealth Stadium.
"You have to dig down and make plays to win sometimes," UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "... I told the team, nobody's going to give you anything, you got to work for what you get, you got to grind it out, you got to have tough victories. I was very proud. I thought we grew in that area.
"We spent these past six weeks -- it's been as I said before, it's been a tough start -- but our guys have stayed the course. We have gotten better. I told you we were getting better, and we certainly have. There's no doubt defensively we have."
Kentucky (3-3, 2-2 SEC) leaned on a strong rushing attack to build a 17-3 lead at the half. The Cats finished with 258 yards on the ground, including 94 yards by freshman Benny Snell, 55 each by Stephen Johnson and Jojo Kemp, and 54 by Boom Williams. Johnson and Kemp had short touchdown runs, and kicker Austin MacGinnis booted field goals of 46 and 28 yards to account for UK's scoring.
Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3 SEC) managed only 282 total yards. The SEC's leading rusher, Ralph Webb, rushed for 100 yards on 18 carries but was mostly held in check by the UK defense. Shurmur went 17-of-29 for 141 yards but failed to get his team into the end zone.
"Tough loss to a Kentucky team that battled hard," Vandy head coach Derek Mason said. "We dug a hole for ourselves early with poor tackling."
In this All Wildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the highlights from UK's win...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky ran the ball well and continued to show improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The Cats controlled the tempo for most of the afternoon, posting 32:44 in time of possession and holding the ball for almost 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. The Commodores entered the game holding opponents to 160.6 rushing yards. Vandy's only touchdown on the day resulted from a UK fumble that was scooped up and returned 22 yards by the Commodores' Taurean Ferguson in the third quarter. Beyond that, the Cats allowed only two field goals. UK has now won two of its last three SEC games by holding South Carolina to 10 points and Vandy to 13, as well as keeping No. 1 Alabama to 10 points under its season scoring average. If they keep making strides on that side of the ball, the Cats may have a shot to reach the six wins needed to earn their first bowl trip under Mark Stoops.
Denzil Ware and Josh Allen, UK Outside Linebackers -- Ware and Allen were outstanding coming off the edges of the UK defense. Each finished with six tackles, two sacks and a quarterback hurry. They were particularly good in high-leverage situations, making sacks or tackles on four different third-down plays.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - Time the Cats have been 2-2 in SEC play for three straight years since 1976-79.
3 - Lowest first-half points surrendered by UK this season.
3 of 12 - Kentucky's third-down defense.]
29 - Consecutive wins for UK, the longest streak in the SEC, when leading after the third quarter.
150th - Win at Commonwealth Stadium for the Cats.
43-42-4 - UK took a one-game lead in the all-time series over Vandy.
"I just threw my head set. I was like, I don't know... I was smoked. I was smoked. You always want it to look easier, but we're not built that way." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops on watching the final defensive stand to clinch the win.
Kentucky has an open date next week before returning to action on Oct. 22 at home against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (2-3, 1-2 SEC) lost to Auburn 38-14 on Saturday in Starkville. MSU will travel to BYU next weekend before coming to Lexington.