Cats pull away in 2nd half for win over Vandy
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — With the kind of numbers Benny Snell is putting up, it’s hard to believe he’s a sophomore.
The Kentucky running back rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns and Sihiem King added two rushing TDs, leading Kentucky to a 44-21 win at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Kentucky (7-3, 4-3 SEC) improved its bowl stock while keeping Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-6) winless in the conference standings.
Snell, who entered the game as the SEC’s leading rusher, became the ninth player in school history to reach 2,000 career yards.
“Really, it’s incredible,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “From day one when we recruited him and as he came in here, the first thing we looked at with him was what you see: that toughness, that attitude, the strong, physical runner, but the maturity to be able to do these things.”
The 5-foot-11, 223-pound sophomore also became the first Kentucky player to rush for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Snell also set the school record for career rushing touchdowns (28).
“It’s one of my accomplishments that I write on my wall,” Snell said. “I’m very thankful, especially for my o-line and my tight ends. They do a great job and they don’t get enough credit.”
Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis kicked three field goals and the Wildcats rambled for 428 yards in total offense.
“We played efficient on offense, defense and special teams and each group contributed to the victory,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “When our offense is like that and has that type of (smash mouth) mentality and we run the ball like that, it opens up a lot of things. That’s the best recipe to win games.”
Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur threw four interceptions and one TD, and was sacked five times. He is tied for second with Jay Cutler (21) for most single-season TD passes in school history.
Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb rushed for 70 yards and one TD. The senior passed Florida’s Emmitt Smith in career yards and moved into the top 10 in SEC rushing history.
Kentucky cornerback Kendall Randolph left the field with a minor shoulder injury with 3:01 left.
Kentucky spotted Vanderbilt a 7-0 lead in the first quarter before rallying for 34 consecutive points to take control.
“We were just vibing,” said Kentucky freshman Lynn Bowden, whose 93-yard kickoff return set up Snell’s final TD in the third quarter. “We were letting everything come to us. We weren’t trying to force anything and we were just keeping our foot on the pedal.”
Just about everything went wrong for the Commodores.
“That’s a laundry list,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “We didn’t do a very good job of getting off the field on third down and stopping the run, defensively, offensively, turnovers, special teams. Really, it was a poor performance when we needed to play well.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats are on track for their best regular season since going 8-3 in 1984. They’ll be underdogs next week at Georgia before finishing with a winnable home game against Louisville on Nov. 25.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores have allowed at least 34 points against all six of their SEC opponents and will probably have to win their last two games against Missouri and Tennessee to become bowl eligible.
Kentucky’s seventh win earned Stoops a one-year contract extension to 2023 along with a $250,000 bonus for reaching seven wins. He will earn $5 million that season. “I’m committed to this place and taking it to another level, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Stoops said.
JUST HOW IT IS
“I’m surprised because everything happened so fast, just like last year,” Snell said of his record-setting day. “This is just how I play. I just try to run hard and get the first down and that’s just how it is. I always want to beat my opponent.”
Snell’s power and King’s quickness were too much for the Commodores. “We try to keep that one-two punch going on with my speed and his bigness,” King said. “Two-headed monster, that’s what we call each other. You really can’t keep up with the tempo if you’ve got power coming at you and then a little bit of speed.”
Stoops let Miles Butler punt instead of Grant McKinniss, so the latter still has a redshirt option to save a year of eligibility. Butler filled in for Matt Panton, who was arrested for public intoxication last week. Butler averaged 38.7 yards on three punts.
Vanderbilt center Bruno Reagan said there are no excuses for the offensive line to allow five sacks on Shurmur.
“It’s got to be a pride thing,” Reagan said. “When you see your quarterback on the ground, that’s got to mean something to you. And we’ve got to have five guys who want to do nothing but protect that guy because that guy’s a rock. That guy’s a player.”
Denzil Ware recorded two sacks and Joshua Paschal, Jamar Watson and T.J. Carter added one each.
Kentucky visits second-ranked Georgia in its last road game on Saturday. The Wildcats haven’t defeated the Bulldogs since a 34-27 win in 2009.
Vanderbilt hosts Missouri in its final home game on Saturday. The Commodores have won three of their last five against the Tigers although Missouri won 26-17 last year.