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Cats bounce back, roll past Vandy for seventh victory of the season

Kentucky running back Benny Snell rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 44-21 rout of Vanderbilt Saturday in Nashville. (UK Athletics Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

For the first time in eight years, Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt in Nashville. The Wildcats not only got a rare victory in Music City, but beat the Commodores soundly Saturday.

Kentucky (7-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) recorded its seventh victory for just the seventh time the past 40 years and the Wildcats elevated their bowl status with a 44-21 rout of the Commodores. The final tally was the largest margin of victory of the season for the Wildcats going into next week’s contest at No. 2 Georgia.

“I was very proud of our team and the way we played tonight to go on the road and play good football across the board,” Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops said. “We knew it was gonna take that. Our guys responded with a great week of practice all week and had the toughness and the attitude that we were looking for going on the road and winning a game that we knew was gonna be super competitive. I have great respect for Derek (Mason) and Vanderbilt and what he does and how they play. And I know the way they’re gonna finish the season and the way they’re gonna play. We knew it was gonna be a very tough game. I was just very proud of our guys with the preparation.”

Vanderbilt (3-6, 0-6) scored the first touchdown of the contest in the opening quarter, but the Wildcats responded by scoring 34 unanswered and bounced back from last week’s disappointing 37-34 loss to Mississippi last week.

Kentucky improved to 3-0 in bounce-back games this season and the double-digit win over the Commodores gave the Wildcats momentum going into the final two weeks of the season.

Sophomore running back Benny Snell sparked Kentucky’s balanced attack with 116 yards on 17 carries and scored three touchdowns to set a school record for most career touchdowns. Snell’s third score, a 2-yard run in the third quarter, gave him 27 career touchdowns, bearing the previous record held by Sonny Collins and Moe Williams. Snell played just three quarters.

Snell, who has rushed for three touchdowns in the past three games, became the first Kentucky running back to rush for 1,000 yards or more in back-to-back seasons.

“(I) really love the way he’s gone about his work,” Stoops said. “As we said from day one when we recruited him and when he came in here, the first thing we looked at with him is what you see, that toughness, is that attitude, is a strong, physical runner. But the maturity to be able to do these things. We needed that in that room. We still need it and I appreciate him and what he’s done.

“He’s a competitive guy and he goes through some ups and some downs. That’s the way it’s going to be when you’re a running back in the SEC. He gets some really tough yards at times and there (are) times he wants to get frustrated, but he’s really maturing and grinding his way through.”

Sihiem King complemented Snell with 69 yards on 15 carries, complete with a pair of touchdowns. Stephen Johnson threw for 195 yards, while Garrett Johnson and Lynn Bowden hauled in nine passes for 155 yards.

Overall, Kentucky’s offense generated 427 total yards, including 232 yards rushing. The Wildcats scored on six of their first seven possessions and converted five third-down opportunities.

“When our offense is like that and has that type of mentality starting with our offensive line and of course our backs and our tight ends, when we run the ball like that it opens up a lot of things and that’s best for us,” Stoops said. “That’s the best recipe to win games and our guys really did a nice job.”

Kentucky’s defensive unit limited the Commodores to just 60 yards rushing and recorded four sacks and five tackles for a loss of 26 yards. Overall, Vandy collected 368 total yards. Kentucky collected a season-high four interceptions.

“It was real important to get turnovers,” Stoops said. “We were frustrated because we hadn’t gotten many in the past two and a half games or whatever it was. So, we stressed it, but I really like the way they played the football. We were competitive all night. I also think it was important the way our offense was running the ball and scoring, and we were playing good run defense kind of making them one dimensional and that helped us as well.”

Vandy quarterback Kyle Shurmur completed 26-of-36 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown. Senior running back gained just 70 yards on nine carries.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Georgia, 3:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentickytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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