The Wildcats and freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith never got going in a 38-8 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. That means Kentucky (4-6, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) now must win its last two games to extend that add to its five straight bowl games. The Wildcats travel to No. 14 Georgia next before hosting Tennessee in their home finale.
"It's still possible to win two out of three," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "We did play poorly today, especially in the first half, and it started with a play on special teams. We let them run from 12 to 20 offensively before that. We never got a cheap one. We were a team that's had to travel a great distance, to get the ball moving with the field positions that we had."
Smith made his second career start but first on the road. A week after throwing for 283 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Ole Miss, Smith appeared rattled by Vanderbilt's defense and was sacked four times. Smith threw for 179 yards with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Nick Melillo to avoid the shutout.
The Wildcats set several marks in a tough season.
They held the ball a season-low 21 minutes, 6 seconds. Officials flagged them for 10 penalties for 105 yards, most this year for a team that had been third in the nation averaging 32.44 penalty yards per game. Coshik Williams had been averaging 107.7 yards the past three games, but the Wildcats finished with a season-low 32 yards rushing.
"I think we just got rattled," Melillo said. "It was one of those things where we were running the ball well in the first half, but we just didn't make the plays to keep drives going. That didn't give the defense enough time to rest, which left them out there for a long time. It was a team loss."
When punter Ryan Tydlacka dropped a low, ankle-high snap inside his own 10-yard line early in the first quarter, it set the tone for Kentucky.
Zac Stacy rushed in for a 3-yard touchdown on the next play for Vanderbilt's first touchdown, and the rout was on. The Commodores scored 21 points in the second quarter for a 24-0 lead that gave Kentucky its largest halftime deficit this season. It was Vanderbilt's biggest halftime lead over an SEC opponent in three decades.
"I saw a Vanderbilt team that has perhaps changed forever for the better," Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter said.
Vanderbilt (5-5, 2-5) now must win at either Tennessee or Wake Forest if they want their first bowl since 2008 and second since 1982. Stacy ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns, and Jordan Rodgers threw for 207 yards and two TDs.
"I don't know what's happened in the past," Franklin said. "We have a mission and a plan, and today we took steps towards that plan. What we did at home is important, but you need to win tough games on the road. That's what this conference is about."
The Commodores did it with their biggest win over Kentucky since a 42-6 win in 1969 and matched their largest margin of victory in an SEC game since 1971 when they beat Mississippi State 49-19. They missed the shutout, which they don't mind.
"We held them to eight," Vanderbilt senior defensive end Tim Fugger said. "I'm OK with that. Our offense was scoring left and right, and any time your offense is scoring that many points, your defense can maybe let it slip a little bit. But, yeah, we played lights out with a lot of guys making plays. I'm proud of our guys."
Vanderbilt could have won by more if not for its own mistakes.
A personal foul on center Logan Stewart pushed the Commodores back after getting to the Kentucky 26. Randall Burden also picked off a Rodgers' pass at the goal line to end another Vanderbilt drive. After Archibald Barnes knocked the ball away from Mychal Bailey on a kickoff return and Steven Clarke recovered, the Commodores couldn't add more points when Rodgers scrambled to the Kentucky 3 staying inbound despite having no timeouts.
The clock ran out before Vandy could spike the ball, and the Wildcats sprinted to the locker room.
But the Commodores outgained Kentucky 278-41 in total offense in the first half and 410-211 overall.
Stacy capped Vandy's scoring with an 18-yard TD run with 6:45 left when he moved a pile of players with him into the end zone for nearly half that.
"I just saw a lot of white jerseys," Stacy said with the Wildcats in road uniforms.
Vanderbilt stomps Kentucky, 38-8
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