Trailing 17-3 at the half, the Commodores rallied to outscore Kentucky 10-3 in the second half. Vandy put together a 12-play, 59-yard drive that unfortunately fizzled at the UK 13. However, we've seen improvement from Kyle Shurmur since that opening game with South Carolina where Vandy couldn't even get one first down on its last-ditch drive. He also led the 'Dores on a long fourth quarter drive to eventually beat Western Kentucky. Additionally, the defense played better in the second half after a poor first half. Vandy gave up 185 yards of offense to UK in the first half but then allowed just 40 yards in the third quarter and 82 in the fourth quarter. The pass defense pretty much shut down UK quarterback Stephen Johnson (10 of 24, 49 yds, 1 INT) but UK won the ground war. All this doesn't negate the fact that the team lost another winnable conference game but it shows some progress.
There were some scary things happening on special teams but Vanderbilt lost this game because of the inability to convert on third down. The Commodores' average starting position was at their own 38. Pretty nice but not taken advantage of. Converting on just 3-of-12 first downs won't win you many ball games. The 'Dores converted on just one first down in the first half and after converting none in the third quarter converted just two in the fourth quarter. The first Kentucky drive was also bad for Vandy. No way that should have been allowed and that one proved to be the difference in the game. Watching Ralph Webb walking off the field with a person on each side of him supporting him as he grimaced in pain was also very bad to see. Derek Mason said he just "tweaked" an ankle but it didn't look good.
The punting game was downright terrifying at times. The snaps, the fielding, the protection of the punter. The blunders in the punting game might make you wonder why the team just doesn't go for it on every fourth down? Ryan White, bless his heart, from nearby Louisville, was trying hard to make something happen but it blew up in Vanderbilt's face, twice. White is a good player but why the heck would you put him back in the game after muffing two already? Mason said after the game that it was a good job of White backing off that last punt but after muffing two he probably would have backed off of returning that one even if there were no Wildcats within 50 yards of him.
This loss was hard to take if you are a Vanderbilt supporter. Any year Vanderbilt loses to Kentucky is considered among the worst of seasons. Sure Vandy might stun someone down the road and scrape together five wins earning an APR bowl bid but things look pretty bleak right now.
Next up for Vandy is a trip to Athens, Ga., to face the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia will face South Carolina on Sunday night in a game that was rescheduled due to hurricane Matthew.