NASHVILLE, Tenn. | The Kentucky Wildcats went into the locker room trailing at halftime and got mad.
Then they started running.
Randall Cobb ran for two touchdowns, Derrick Locke rushed for a career-high 144 yards and a touchdown, and Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 24-13 Saturday to become bowl eligible for a school record fourth straight year. It was a nice turnaround for a team that felt Vanderbilt had more at stake as they outplayed the Wildcats the first 30 minutes.
"We were trying to get to a fourth straight bowl game and they were trying to ruin our season, but they came out ready to play," Kentucky defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "Luckily, we responded after halftime, and we stepped our game to get an important win."
Kentucky (6-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) has won seven of the past nine in this series and can improve its bowl berth in the final two games of the regular season. The Wildcats visit Georgia, then close the regular season at home against Tennessee.
"Our work is not done by a long shot," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "We have two difficult games left, and we want to ensure ourselves of a little better pecking order."
Vanderbilt (2-9, 0-7) had its best scoring game this season against an SEC opponent. But the Commodores blew a 13-10 halftime lead and lost their seventh straight after being shut out in the second half. They managed a mere 31 yards offense in the second half.
The Wildcats struggled to pass even with Mike Hartline playing his first game since injuring his left knee Oct. 10 against South Carolina. Morgan Newton started, and both had passes intercepted. But Locke and Cobb helped Kentucky win its second straight and for the fourth time in five games.
This game featured the SEC's two worst defenses against the run, and Kentucky did a better job rushing with Cobb and Locke than Vanderbilt managed as a team. Cobb finished with 99 yards on 14 carries, while Locke ran 25 times as Kentucky outgained Vandy 399-209 in total offense — 308 of that coming on the ground. Kentucky ran on 39 of its 42 second-half plays.
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said Kentucky just wore his Commodores down.
"Give Kentucky credit for using a simple game plan to take it to us. They did a good job controlling the game," he said.
Cobb put Kentucky up 7-0 after taking the snap in the Wildcats' wildcobb formation. He ran right before tiptoeing along the right sideline for a 21-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Officials reviewed the play to make sure he stayed inbound, and he did.
"We had people in position to make tackles, but he broke away from them," Johnson said.
He put Kentucky ahead to stay 17-13 by capping the opening drive of the third quarter by running in 3 yards for his second TD. Then Locke capped a 72-yard drive with a 14-yard TD in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, finishing with his third 100-yard rushing game this season.
"Thank goodness Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke felt pretty refreshed at the start of the game and the end of the second half. Before everybody asks, we can't have Randall take every snap in the wildcat. It is impossible to take that kind of body blows," Brooks said.
As it was, Brooks said Cobb was cramping in the second half and bruised his shoulder late, which is why Cobb missed the last few plays. Locke also started cramping, and the coach said he got "dinged" but not a concussion.
Vanderbilt hadn't scored more than 10 in any SEC game this season but led 13-10 at halftime thanks largely to a defense ranked 10th nationally against the pass. The Commodores turned two interceptions into 10 points in the second quarter but lost linebacker Patrick Benoist, their leading tackler, to a concussion in the first half.
He was taken to a hospital, and Johnson said after the game that the linebacker was about to return to the training room.
Eddie Foster picked off a pass by Hartline. That set up Ryan Fowler's career-long 47-yard field goal to pull Vandy with in 7-6.
T.J. Greenstone tipped a Newton pass, and Myron Lewis grabbed it for his 10th career interception at the Kentucky 20. Three plays later, Mackenzi Adams found John Cole who pulled in a 21-yard pass for the first touchdown of the receiver's career to give Vandy its first lead of the game with 2:25 left in the half.
The Commodores could have scored more except Adams overthrew a receiver, and Calvin Harrison intercepted the pass at the Kentucky 23 with 50 seconds left until halftime.