Vanderbilt didn’t have all of the kinks ironed out of its offense on Saturday, but there will be additional time to address that in December.
After all, Vanderbilt will be making a third consecutive bowl appearance.
The Commodores continued their trend of achieving bowl eligibility in each season since James Franklin arrived in Nashville, beating Kentucky 22-6 before a crowd of 33,488 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“It’s an expectation now,”Vanderbilt senior cornerback Andre Hal said. “We want to win. We want to go to bowl games.” The Commodores (6-4, 3-4 SEC) found the end zone twice – but just once in the first 59 minutes – in senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels’ return.
Carta-Samuels received medical clearance to play Saturday morning for the first time since injuring his left knee in the second quarter of the Georgia game on Oct. 19. He was 19-of-24 passing for 184 yards.
“Just had a limited role in practice, been working hard, got the clearance so Iwas just ready to step in and do my job,” Carta-Samuels said. “I felt great. Obviously, they cleared me. Something was working.” Jordan Matthews hauled in 12 of those completions – a single-game career high – while catching a pair of long passes in the second half en route to 141 receiving yards.
The Commodores continued their takeaway binge, intercepting Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow four times while shutting out the Wildcats after the 6:23 mark of the first quarter. Vanderbilt has 16 takeaways in its lastfour games after getting just seven in its first six games.
“The turnovers were huge,” Franklin said. “I thought the defense played as well against the spread and a mobile quarterback probably since we’ve been here. I think that’s great strides for us. I think we had a good plan.” Vanderbilt reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time last year. Kentucky (2-8, 0-6) lost for the third time in a row to the Commodores and has been outscored 10014 in that stretch.
“It’s the same old song and dance,” Wildcatsfirst-year coach Mark Stoops said. “I’m upset and frustrated. I thought our team played hard, but we just didn’t make plays when we had to.” Vanderbilt pieced together second-half drives that ended in two Carey Spear field goals to seal the win. Spear, who missed a 34yard field goal in the third quarter, connected on tries of 26 and 38 yards in the fourth quarter to extend a 9-6 halftime lead to a 15-6 game.
Patton Robinette, a redshirt freshman from Maryville who started Vanderbilt’s previous twogames, entered on the final series and in true Tim Tebow fashion completed a jump pass to Kris Kentera for a 13-yard touchdown with 47 seconds to play.
Vanderbilt outgained Kentucky 141-16 in the fourth quarter and had the ball for 10:51. The strong finish gave the Commodores their seventh consecutive November win and boosted Franklin’s November record to 8-2.
“I thought (Carta-Samuels’ presence) helped in some ways,” Franklin said. “I think the biggest thing is our defense played exceptionally well.”