Vanderbilt had a chance on its last drive Saturday to tie the game, but the Commodores came up just short against Kentucky 20-13.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur drove the Dores down the field all the way to the Kentucky 8-yard line before failing on fourth and goal on an incomplete pass to Kalijah Lipscomb. The last-second comeback fail gave Vandy its second seven-point loss in as many weeks.
The Wildcats came into the game fresh off a 34-6 beatdown against Alabama the week before and the Commodores were a week removed from an impressive performance in a 13-6 loss against Florida. However, the momentum that could have been captured against Florida didn’t last against the Wildcats.
Saturday’s game at Kentucky was possibly the best chance for Vanderbilt to get a Southeastern Conference win this season. They didn’t, though, and at 0-3 with SEC games left against Georgia, Auburn, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee, it’s hard to find a contest where the Dores will get an SEC win this season.
Here are 3 Reasons Why: Vanderbilt couldn’t get it done
Failure to stop the run
The main reason why Vanderbilt wasn’t able to get the job done Saturday was its inability to slow down the Kentucky rushing attack, especially in the first half. The Wildcats went into the game averaging 171.8 yards per game on the ground and were facing a Vandy defense — the top scoring defense in the SEC — that was giving up 160 yards rushing per game and that held Florida to just 2.6 yards per rush the week before.
While the Dores did a great job of holding down the Wildcats’ passing attack, giving up just 49 yards through the air, the UK rushing game did what it wanted most of the game. When the dust settled Saturday Kentucky had run for 258 yards on 52 attempts, good for a 5-yard average.
It wasn’t just one or two people, either, who gashed the Dores. Four players ran for more than 50 yards, led by Benny Snell with 94 yards on 20 attempts.
Ralph Webb was under used early
Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb, who went into the game tops in the SEC and tied for 10th in the country with 582 rushing yards, was a non-factor in the first half of the game. The junior rushed just six times for 39 yards in the first two quarters as Vandy’s offense struggled to put up just three points.
The Dores offense gained just 81 total yards in the first half and punted on three of their first five drives and also fumbled once. With a struggling offense you have to find a way to get your best, most explosive playmakers going. It seemed like Vanderbilt never wanted to get Webb into the game, getting him just seven total touches in 23 first half offensive plays.
After halftime it was clear head coach Derek Mason wanted to get his back into the action right away, as Webb rushed on Vanderbilt’s first two drives for 15 total yards. He ended the game with 18 rushes for 100 yards, but his good second half proved to be too little, too late.
Zero passing game … again
At halftime of Saturday’s game, Mason made the comment that his team couldn’t throw the football effectively. That proved to again be a factor of the Commodore downfall, just as it has countless times this season.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur may have led a good drive on Vandy’s last-minute comeback attempt, but his inability to throw the deep ball consistently made it tough for the Dores to stretch out the Wildcat defense. He finished with just 141 yards through the air, good for an eight yards per completion average. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in two complete games.
Never was Shurmur and the passing attack more needed than on the final drive of the game, and to his credit he did lead the Dores on a dangerous drive down to the Kentucky 8-yard line before an incomplete pass on fourth down ended the game. But, one good drive doesn’t take away from the poor play he exhibited on Saturday and throughout the season so far.
Moving forward, if Vanderbilt wants to have any success offensively it has to find a way to make the passing game compliment Webb and the rushing attack. Until that happens, teams can key in on Webb and the Dores offense will continue to struggle.