LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The Southeastern Conference will grind up a football team as much as any league in the country. But there is one program that is generally eager to supply a get well card to the league's 13 other teams.
That team is Vanderbilt.
For Kentucky, that lifeline arrived late Saturday afternoon in Nashville. The Wildcats got well. Very well.
Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 14 — and that was with the Wildcats giving the Commodores a first quarter touchdown on a fumble. Kentucky punted once — with 63 seconds to play.
Kentucky ran the football as if the Wildcats received extra points for every handoff. Of Kentucky’s 528 yards, 401 came running the football, a season best. It was also the fourth-best total this season by a Southeastern Conference team against an SEC opponent.
Lynn Bowden Jr. continued his do-everything season as the Wildcats' quarterback, running for 110 yards and completing 8 of 10 passes for 104 yards.
"He played just the way he's been playing — just like a warrior," UK coach Mark Stoops said of Bowden during an interview with the SEC Network after the game.
"You put him back there and he makes people miss. But he also lowers his shoulders and runs over people when he has to. So you just put it all together and it's pretty remarkable some of the things he's doing right now."
This time, however, Bowden was not Kentucky’s leading rusher. That was Christian Rodriguez, who carried the ball 15 times for a career-best 129 yards. Kavosiey Smoke got within two yards of giving UK three 100-yard rushers but settled for 95 yards on 15 carries.
The defense also delivered, limiting Vandy to 198 yards, only 90 passing. The Wildcats possessed the ball for more than 38 1/2 minutes.
"Kentucky was going to try to play keep away and they did," Vandy coach Derek Mason said. "They played their ball game and we could not play ours."
Upgrade the Wildcats to 5-5 as Stoops and his squad finished the SEC portion of their schedule with a 3-5 record.
The Wildcats figure to secure bowl eligibility against Tennessee-Martin at Kroger Field next Saturday and then attempt to defend their victory in the Governor’s Cup when Louisville visits Nov. 30.
The Wildcats’ offensive line simply knocked the Vandy defense into Chattanooga, Tennessee, from nearly the opening snap. Kentucky averaged more than 8 yards per carry while running the ball for 279 yards on 32 carries in the first half. UK finished with 7.2 yard per rushing attempt.
Until Saturday, Kentucky’s season high was 330 yards against Arkansas last month. The Wildcats eclipsed that total less than five minutes into the third quarter.
"Some of the runs today, I hadn't necessarily seen," Stoops said.
Rodriguez emerged as a force as a power runner, knocking down tacklers while rumbling for a 22-yard score in the second quarter. If you questioned Rodriguez’s grit, he showed it again with a thunderous 27-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
Bowden Jr. had failed to throw a touchdown pass while attempting 29 passes in Kentucky’s past three games. Bowden doubled his season total while throwing a 14-yard scoring pass when Josh Ali caught a ball that a Vanderbilt defender deflected with 11 seconds left in the second quarter.
By then, it was difficult to remember that Kentucky trailed 14-3 less than 11 minutes into the game after Vandy’s Allan George crackled 67 yards with a fumble.
"When you go down 14-3, if you're not a team that has confidence in what we're doing, you could flinch right there," Stoops said.
Kentucky responded with gusto, scoring touchdowns on their next five possessions, all on drives of at least six plays and 72 yards.
Sawyer Smith replaced Bowden at quarterback in the fourth quarter and completed his first two throws. He was followed by Walker Wood, who completed his first throw for seven yards and a first down.
By then, it was time to think about the rest of the season. Tennessee-Martin is a modest FBC program that improved to 7-4 by defeating Tennessee State 28-17 Saturday.
Two items of interest about the Skyhawks. Their co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is Nick Petrino, who coached Lamar Jackson (and others) at that position for his father, Bobby Petrino, at Louisville.
UT-Martin played an SEC team earlier this season. That team was Florida. The Gators won 45-0.
That should be an easier victory than the one the Wildcats delivered Saturday before they prepare to finish the season against Louisville.
"Our team's been playing hard," Stoops said.
Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.