‘Cats get off to fast start, down Vandy to get back on track

Levis fuels fast start, Cats score on first four possessions

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Chris Rodriguez Jr. ran for 114 yards and a touchdown, Will Levis threw for two scores and Kentucky used a fast start to beat Vanderbilt 34-17 in a Southeastern Conference matchup on Saturday night.

The Wildcats (7-3, 5-3) ended a three-game losing streak and have won the last six games against Vanderbilt (2-8, 0-6). The Commodores have lost five in a row and 19 consecutive SEC games.

Kentucky scored on its first four possessions.

“We played more complimentary football in the first half than we have in some time,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We did what we had to do to win. You know this was big for us coming on the road and getting another SEC East win.”

Levis hit Wan’Dale Robinson in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown and Izayah Cummings for a 22-yard score. Jalen Geiger returned an interception 31 yards into the end zone. Rodriguez, who has rushed for over 100 yard five times this season, added a 5-yard touchdown run that stretched the Wildcats’ lead to 28-3 with 10:43 remaining in the second quarter.

Mike Wright took over for Vanderbilt starting quarterback Ken Seals to start the second half and threw an 8-yard touchdown pass Chris Pierce Jr. with 5:53 left in the third quarter. Wright later capped a 75-yard drive with an 8-yard TD pass to Amir Abdur-Rahman with 7:33 remaining.

“Ken was hurt in the first half,” Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said. “We will have to see the extend of his injury. We were pleased with what Mike did in the second half. He knew during the first defensive series he was coming in. He was ready. I think he made good decisions. We have a lot to build on.”

The Wildcats offense was shut down for most of the second half. Matt Ruffolo’s 32-yard field goal with 13:26 left in the game broke the drought.

“In the second half we got a little out of kilter defensively,” Stoops said. “I wish we could have made some better stops defensively in the second half. I thought that handcuffed our offense.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Kentucky: The Wildcats defense kept Vanderbilt’s offense in check. The Commodores did not reach the red zone in the first half and a 48-yard field goal by Joseph Bulovas was their only score. … The Wildcats have held Vanderbilt to 22 points or less in seven of their last eight meetings.

Vanderbilt: Seals was back as the starting quarterback for the Commodores after missing the last three games with an injured finger. He completed 12 of 17 passes for 87 yards. He threw one interception, which was returned for a touchdown, and was sacked three times. … Wright completed seven of 11 pass attempts for 58 yards, added 20 yards rushing and did not throw an interception.

FLU HITS COMMODORES

Twelve Vanderbilt players were dealing with the flu this past week. “There is some toughness there we are proud of,” Lea said. “They battled through it.”

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Hosts New Mexico State in a nonconference game on Saturday.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores are on the road for an SEC game against No. 12 Mississippi on Saturday.

FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 34, Vanderbilt 17

Team Records and Series Information

  • Kentucky is 7-3 overall, 5-3 in the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt is 2-8 overall, 0-6 in the SEC.
  • Kentucky leads the series 48-42-4 and has won the last six. It matches UK’s longest winning streak in the series as UK also won six in a row from 1976-81.
  • Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats have their home finale and Senior Day on Saturday, November 20 against New Mexico State. Game time is noon and it will be telecast on the SEC Network.
  • This is the second time since 1977 that UK has had a winning record in league play, 5-3 this year and also in 2018

What the Wins Means for Kentucky

  • Kentucky is 7-3 for the first time since 2018 and has clinched a winning record for the 2021 season.
  • Kentucky is 5-3 in the SEC and will finish in second place in the SEC Eastern Division. 
    • It is the first time since the league split into divisions in 1992 that UK will end the season in sole possession of second place of the East. 
    • UK also has finished in a tie for second in the division on two other occasions, 2016 and 2018.
    • All three second-place East finishes have been in the last six seasons under Mark Stoops.
  • This is the second time since 1977 that UK has posted a winning record in league play, 5-3 this season and also in 2018.
  • Six straight wins over Vanderbilt, matches UK’s longest win streak in the series (six from 1976-81).

 Coach Mark Stoops

  • This was Stoops’ 56th win as UK head coach. Paul “Bear” Bryant holds the school record with 60 victories.
  • Stoops is now 56-53 at Kentucky.  After two games of the 2016 season, his record was 12-26 but has gone 44-27 (.620) since.
  • Stoops extended his school records for total SEC wins (29) and total games coached at UK (109).
  • Coach Stoops is in his ninth season as head coach of the Wildcats, tying Fran Curci (1973-81) for most seasons as head coach at UK.

 Team Notes

  • Kentucky scored the first five times it touched the ball – a six-yard touchdown pass from Will Levis to Wan’Dale Robinson; a 22-yard pass from Levis to Izayah Cummings; a 31-yard interception return by Jalen Geiger; a five-yard run by Chris Rodriguez Jr.; and a 25-yard field goal by Matt Ruffolo
  • Kentucky ran 22 plays and racked up 12 first downs before having its first third-down situation of the game at the 4:38 mark of the second quarter.
  • Kentucky had 413 yards total offense – 236 rushing and 177 passing.
    • In all five of UK’s SEC wins this season, the Wildcats had more rushing yardage than passing.

 Player Notes

  • Junior quarterbackWill Levis completed 14 of 22 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
    • He picked up 32 rushing yards on six carries for 209 yards total offense.
    • Levis completed his first eight passes before an incompletion with 4:43 remaining in the second quarter.
  • Junior running backChris Rodriguez Jr. rushed 16 times for 114 yards and one touchdown, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.  He played less than three quarters of the game.
    • It is his fifth 100-yard game of the season.  He is tied for fifth place in school history in 100-yard rushing games with 11.
    • He has 1,032 yards this season, becoming the 10th player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, marking the 14th time a Wildcat has accomplished the feat.
    • He has 2,393 career rushing yards, remains in ninth place in school history.
    • In three games against Vanderbilt, he has totaled 44 carries for 392 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 8.9 yards per attempt against the Commodores.
  • Sophomore running back JuTahn McClain set career highs with 10 carries for 69 yards, averaging 6.9 per carry.
  • Junior wide receiverWan’Dale Robinson caught six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
    • He has 77 catches this season, tying Keenan Burton (2006) for fifth place on the single-season receptions list.
  • Senior wide receiverJosh Ali caught four passes for 58 yards.
    • He has 1,235 receiving yards in his career, advancing to 22nd place in UK history.
  • Sophomore tight endIzayah Cummings caught two passes for 27 yards, including a 22-yarder that is his third touchdown of the year.
  • Senior safetyYusuf Corker led the defense with eight tackles.
  • Senior defensive endJosh Paschal had seven tackles, including a pair of quarterback sacks.
    • He has 34.5 tackles for loss in his career and moved into sole possession of sixth place in UK history.
  • In his first collegiate start, sophomore safetyJalen Geiger made his first collegiate interception and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. 
    • It is UK’s second interception return for a touchdown this season. Tyrell Ajian had a 95-yard TD return against Chattanooga.
  • Sophomore noseguardJustin Rogers made four tackles, including a nine-yard quarterback sack and a one-yard tackle for loss.
  • Senior punter Colin Goodfellow kicked twice for a 45.5-yard average. He entered the game leading the SEC with a 47.5-yard average.
  • Senior kicker Matt Ruffolo made all six of his kicks – field goals of 25 and 32 yards, plus all four extra points.
  • Making their first career starts were a trio of sophomores, noseguardJosaih Hayes, nickelback Vito Tisdale and safety Jalen Geiger.
  • Game captains tonight wereJosh Paschal, DeAndre Square, Will Levis and Luke Fortner.
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