By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Some days, the ball just doesn’t bounce your way.
That felt like the theme of Vanderbilt’s matchup with Kentucky on Saturday. The Commodores fumbled (and recovered) the very first snap of the game. On the Dores’ next possession, quarterback Kyle Shurmur had a tipped pass fall into the hands of Kentucky defensive end Denzil Ware.
Later, a Wildcats’ fumble actually improved their yardage when it was recovered by the ‘Cats at the Vanderbilt 2-yard line, leading to a touchdown on the next drive. Meanwhile, Shurmur threw four interceptions, the last of which came on the Commodores’ final offensive play of the game. He’d thrown three all season prior to this game.
The hits just never seemed to end for Vanderbilt, which ultimately dropped a 44-21 loss to Kentucky.
“Last week, we got some bounces to go our way. This week, we got one,” Mason said, “and they had the ball [fumbled] three times and we came up with one. And we were there all three times.”
He added: “It’s just a comedy of errors. Not very good football.”
Vanderbilt got back on the winning track during last week’s 31-17 win over Western Kentucky. That goodwill seemed to reverse on Saturday, when Kentucky took advantage of a mistake-prone Commodore offense and a run defense that struggled to slow the Wildcats.
Turnovers and an inability to capitalize on opportunities largely defined Vanderbilt’s afternoon on West End.
“We beat ourselves in this ballgame,” Mason said.
THE POINT AFTER: How Kentucky beat Vanderbilt
The Commodores looked ready for an SEC win early in the first quarter. They stormed down the field on their second series and grabbed a 7-0 lead on a 37-yard run by Ralph Webb. But Kentucky responded immediately, tacking on a scoring run by Sihiem King to knot the score 7-7.
That’s when the floodgates opened. Vanderbilt’s offense stalled as Kentucky reeled off 34 straight points to take over the game. An interception here, a missed fumble there, a bad bounce here – the forces of football refused to let the Commodore regain control at any point on Saturday.
But while bad luck played its part in the loss, Mason said Vanderbilt also didn’t live up to its own potential. They allowed 236 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns from Kentucky.
“It just comes back to discipline,” Mason said. “Right now, we just don’t have enough of it. That’s a common theme and a common problem. And again, that’s on me as coach.”
Mason and his staff hope to find the correct recipe before next week’s home finale against Missouri (6:30 p.m. CT SEC Network). The Commodores sit 4-6 overall, two games removed from the six wins needed for automatic bowl eligibility. That means Vanderbilt must beat both Missouri and rival Tennessee to secure a trip to the postseason.
Of course, the Dores have been in this position before. They sat 4-6 last season before wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee sent them bowling for the first time since 2013. But during that stretch, it was an offensive resurgence that helped Vanderbilt turn things around. The Commodores need to find answers on defense this time, a point of pride for Mason.
That quest begins again next week against Missouri. Quarterback Drew Lock and the Tigers’ high-powered offense poses a significant challenge, and Mason knows it’s back to the drawing board for Vanderbilt’s defense.
After all, Saturday's effort didn’t sit well with the Commodores’ coach.
“Damn right,” said Mason. “I’m pissed, I’m mad, I’m angry. It starts with me. I’m mad at myself, but I talk to this group about expectations. We’ve got to get it right. We got to get it right and we got to get it right right now.
“I can live with your best. That wasn’t your best.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.