NASHVILLE, TN - The Vanderbilt Commodores just keep making history with coach James Franklin, and this time they've become eligible for a third straight bowl game for the first time ever.
Just don't expect a big celebration right now. That's not how these Commodores work.
Franklin called a 22-6 win over Kentucky on Saturday a big win over a Southeastern Conference team, and the coach said they'll be excited at season's end if told they've been invited to a bowl. Asked about his success building a program once considered the SEC's worst, Franklin credited his players and support from Vanderbilt administration.
"We're really excited about being 1-0 this week ...," Franklin said. "But we're not changing our plan; we're not changing our process. We have expectations, internal expectations of how to play and how to conduct our business. We're going to keep focused on that. I think that it's done us well over the last couple years, so we're not changing."
Vanderbilt had been to only four bowls before Franklin took over.
Now the Commodores (6-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) have won two with two games remaining in the regular season, and bowl eligibility means they will have a chance to match last year's 9-4 record that was their best since 1915.
Senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels said the Commodores have learned to listen and do what Franklin asks because results follow.
"I'm really glad we got to that threshold (six wins) because now we can just focus on beating our next opponent," Carta-Samuels said. "Our coaches keep us really in the moment."
Brian Kimbrow scored on a 21-yard run, and Jordan Matthews caught 12 passes for 141 yards in becoming the first Vanderbilt receiver with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Andre Hal had one of Vanderbilt's four interceptions, and Patton Robinette sealed the win with a 13-yard TD pass to Kris Kentera with 47 seconds left.
Kentucky (2-8, 0-6) lost its 14th straight SEC game. The Wildcats never scored after Jojo Kemp's 2-yard TD on the opening drive.
"It's the same old song and dance, I'm upset and frustrated," Kentucky first-year coach Mark Stoops said. "I thought our team played hard but we just didn't make plays when we had to. We had certain plays set up and we didn't execute. And they executed their plays, that was the difference in the game."
Vanderbilt now has beaten Kentucky for a third straight year and tied up this series at 41-41-4 overall. The Commodores also won their seventh straight in November.
Franklin called it a Jedi mind trick last week when Carta-Samuels dressed but did not play in the Commodores' win at Florida. The coach said Carta-Samuels was cleared to play Saturday morning, and the quarterback said he still doesn't know exactly what his injury is or if he'll need surgery at season's end.
The senior started against Kentucky despite not being on the depth chart. Carta-Samuels wore a brace protecting the left knee injured Oct. 19 in a win over Georgia, and he was sacked three times. Carta-Samuels was 19 of 24 for 184 yards before Robinette, who started at Texas A&M and in last week's 34-17 win at Florida, mopped up on the final few plays.
"We limited some of the things that we did with him, and I think that affected us a little bit on offense," Franklin said. "Loved the fact Patton Robinette comes in and does his job."
Whether it was the quarterback change or a hangover from the big win in the Swamp, the Commodores struggled to move the ball through the first three quarters. They took over in the fourth quarter holding the ball for nearly 11 minutes and outgaining Kentucky 141-16 in putting away the win. Carey Spear kicked two field goals in the quarter.
The Commodores came in with 12 takeaways in the past three games, and they intercepted Jalen Whitlow three times in the first half. Kenny Ladler added the fourth with 5:24 left.
"It was a frustrating day for Jalen, we didn't play good enough at that position," Stoops said. "I thought he had tough runs and we moved the chains. We're doing the best we can; we need to get mores support around him."
Kentucky opened the game executing the hurry-up offense coach Mark Stoops wants to perfection. The Wildcats drove 75 yards running through the Vanderbilt defense with ease on 10 of 12 plays before Kemp plunged in for a 2-yard TD and a 6-0 lead.
But Adam Butler blocked Joe Mansour's extra point, and Steven Clarke returned it for a safety.
Hal set up Kimbrow's TD when a Whitlow pass went off Demarco Robinson's hands into his hands for the interception, and Hal returned it to the Vandy 26. Kimbrow scored three plays later on a 21-yard run, putting Vanderbilt up 9-6 at the end of the first quarter.