Another week, another inconsistent showing in what ended up being a fairly comfortable win for Kentucky football.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 24-0 lead in their SEC opener against Vanderbilt on Saturday but let the Commodores claw back into the game before pulling away for a 45-28 victory.
Quarterback Devin Leary posted his worst performance of the season, completing 15 of 29 passes for 205 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, but saved his best throw of the afternoon for the game-clinching 22-yard touchdown pass to Dane Key in the fourth quarter. Playing his former team, running back Ray Davis scored two touchdowns but found few holes for most of the game with 78 yards on 17 carries. Backup running back JuTahn McClain scored the other offensive touchdown on a 36-yard carry on Kentucky’s opening drive.
Kentucky’s defense held Vanderbilt to 328 yards and scored its its second and third touchdowns of the season on Maxwell Hairston interception returns.
An ugly finish to first half and start to the second half from Kentucky had Vanderbilt on the verge of making this a game when linebacker D’Eryk Jackson intercepted an AJ Swann pass at the Kentucky 29-yard line. Jackson was immediately hit by a Vanderbilt player but had the awareness to lateral the ball to defensive back Andru Phillips, who returned it 50 yards to the Vanderbilt 21-yard line. A personal foul penalty against Vanderbilt during the return gave UK a first drive at the Commodores’ 11-yard line. Four plays later, Davis scored his second touchdown of the game to give UK a 31-13 lead and the breathing room it needed.
Scoring two touchdowns should put Hairston in the running for SEC Defensive Player of the Week, but he was not immune from the inconsistency that plagued Kentucky for most of the afternoon. Hairston was flagged for three penalties in the game, including two in the end zone that immediately preceded two of Vanderbilt’s three touchdowns. The second end zone penalty was a questionable pass interference call, but Hairston bounced back with a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown on Vanderbilt’s next drive.
How does a team score at least 35 points in three of its first four games despite offensive struggles? Kentucky’s defense and special teams have now contributed four touchdowns on the season. Against Ball State, UK scored on a fumble recovery and a kickoff return. The defense has also set up multiple short fields for offensive scores, like the touchdown after Jackson’s interception Saturday.