NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Kentucky's 15-game Southeastern Conference losing streak was laid to rest here Saturday in grand fashion.
Jared Lorenzen threw for 453 yards and six touchdowns as the Wildcats crushed Vanderbilt 56-30, their first league victory since a 19-17 triumph over the Commodores nearly two years to the date on the same field.
"It feels great," said Kentucky coach Guy Morriss, who notched his first SEC victory as a head coach. "The kids have been really good. They've hung in there tough, even though they've been disappointed here these past few weeks. It's good to see them finally get that win they deserve so much.
"We challenged the players all week to come out here and play their best game of the season. We had a great week of practice, and we were very confident coming in. Our team expected to win, and that has been a long time coming for us. I'm proud of these guys for not throwing in the towel when times were rough."
"It was pretty much an all-around great effort," said Lorenzen, who completed 26 of 37 passes with no interceptions and touchdown strikes of 52, 43, 21, 51, 5 and 28 yards. "It feels great. We finally get to have a happy ride home. This is a huge confidence builder for us, especially since we're coming up against Tennessee."
Kentucky (2-7; 1-6 SEC) returns to Commonwealth Stadium next week for its home finale against the No. 6 Volunteers. Tennessee (7-1, 4-1) beat Memphis 49-28 on Saturday in Knoxville.
"Our offense is making progress," Morriss said. "I think we should feel confident in our capabilities, but we have to keep getting better. The team is already done celebrating and we're looking ahead to improve for next week."
Vanderbilt (2-7, 0-6), which learned on Thursday that coach Woody Widenhofer will resign effective at the end of the season, had no answers for the UK offense on Saturday.
After punting on their first drive of the game, the Cats scored on six of their next seven possessions and got a key defensive score late in the first half when Dennis Johnson sacked Vanderbilt quarterback Greg Zohlman, forcing a fumble, and linebacker Jamal White scooped it up for an 82-yard touchdown return.
The play was one of many highlights in an impressive second quarter for Johnson. The junior defensive end recorded two sacks, two tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles in the period to put his own personal mark on an otherwise defenseless day in Music City. The SEC's two worst defenses surrendered a combined 1,125 yards.
"I thought the turning point was when we were going in for a touchdown late in the first half to get within three points (23-20) and fumbled," Widenhofer said. "They returned the fumble 90 yards for a touchdown. That 14-point turnaround was something we didn't recover from."
"I kind of got frustrated in the first quarter because the tackle would block me and then I would get chipped," Johnson said. " In the first quarter, I was just a body out there. If you are a big time player, you can't do that. I knew I had to pick it up."
"I was matching Jamal (White) stride-for-stride down the sideline. Did you see that?" Morriss said with a laugh.
That score, combined with Lorenzen touchdown passes of 52 yards to Derek Abney, 43 yards to Derek Smith and 21 yards to Tommy Cook, as well as a 27-yard field goal by Seth Hanson, gave the Cats a 30-13 lead going in to halftime.
The same three players caught TD passes from Lorenzen in the second half. Smith added a 51-yarder in the third quarter to give UK a 37-20 advantage. Abney hauled in his second with time running down in the third period to make it 43-27. Cook, who earlier had the first touchdown of his college career, made it two when he scored from 28 yards out on a fourth-and-27 play with 2:48 remaining in the game.
Sandwiched in between was a 1-yard touchdown run by Artose Pinner, who led Kentucky with nine carreies for 33 yards. The Cats rushed for 130 yards on 30 attempts to complement Lorenzen's big passing effort.
Abney, a sophomore wideout, led the receiving corps with seven catches for 113 yards. Cook, a redshirt freshman, had career highs of five receptions for 77 yards. Smith, the All-SEC junior tight end, added four catches for 130 yards. Lorenzen completed passes to 10 different targets on the day.
"He had a really nice game today," Morriss said of the sophomore quarterback. "He's in tune with coach (Brent) Pease and this offense. He's really stepped it up from a leadership standpoint... and he's doing everything you expect from an SEC quarterback."
The Commodores also got a huge effort from their senior quarterback, Greg Zohlman, who completed 29 of 45 passes for a career-high 441 yards and two touchdowns. Junior receiver Dan Stricker caught 12 of those for a career-high 204 yards and both scores.
"Reaching the record today was only bittersweet," Zohlman said. "Overall it feels good to accomplish goals, but I wish that throughout my career here we could have won more games and left with a win today. Kentucky's defense played a good game. They were prepared well and knew how to pressure us. Dennis Johnson did a great job in rallying their defense."