LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Vanderbilt's defense created opportunities against Kentucky by forcing three turnovers including Darrius Sims' interception return for a game-tying touchdown.
Too bad the Commodores' offense couldn't turn them into points. In fact, they gave the ball right back to the Wildcats in the fourth quarter.
Patrick Towles threw a 20-yard touchdown pass and scored on a 1-yard run, and Kentucky made three fourth-quarter interceptions to hold off Vanderbilt 17-7 on Saturday to end a 17-game Southeastern Conference losing streak.
"This is a young team and the best thing we can do is do what we can do," first-year Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. "That just means capitalize on our opportunities and just go out there and get it done.
"In the end, I am just looking at our team and we're getting better, we just have to minimize the mistakes and maximize the opportunities."
Despite gaining just 114 yards and converting 1 of 8 third-down chances through three quarters, the Commodores (1-4, 0-3) remained within reach of a Kentucky team intent on ending its SEC drought and a three-game skid to Vanderbilt by a 100-14 margin.
The defense helped by stopping Kentucky on downs and recovering two fourth-quarter fumbles, but the Wildcats squashed the Commodores' hopes each time by picking off freshman quarterback Wade Freebeck.
"It was just going the wrong place with the ball, either late or it was just on me," said Freebeck, who completed just 8 of 25 passes for 85 yards in place of injured Patton Robinette. "They mix it up a little bit, but at the end of the day I have to recognize that and get rid of the ball."
Then again, success wasn't possible in a game that Vanderbilt gained just 139 yards, including 57 in the second half. The Commodores finished just 2 of 12 on third down.
The ground game had 54 yards on 22 carries, and Freebeck was sacked four times for minus-23 yards.
"I thought he was poised in the pocket," Commodores running back Ralph Webb said of Freebeck. "He took a few sacks today, but we just have to get the ball off and (give) him protection, just executing plays."
Webb had 44 yards rushing on 13 carries.
All of the scoring came in the first half with Towles doing the work with his arm and feet. He connected with Ryan Timmons to cap a 99-yard, 13-play opening drive, then followed Austin MacGinnis' 44-yard field goal with a 1-yard sneak just before halftime.
Towles, a sophomore, completed 23 of 30 passes for 201 of Kentucky's 384 yards but lost a fourth-quarter fumble and was sacked four times. Sims stepped in front of Towles' quick out pass for an easy TD that turned out to be Vanderbilt's only points.
Besides hitting his first nine passes for 77 yards, including the slant to Timmons for the TD, Towles extended the drive with a 21-yard keeper on third-and-11.
Towles completed another short pass before the costly interception to Sims, whose two kickoff returns for touchdowns last week against South Carolina resulted in several squib kicks by Kentucky to avoid similar damage.
Kentucky gained 384 yards, including 183 rushing as Towles spent the final quarter handing off to his backs to avoid more turnovers.
Not that Vanderbilt was going to take advantage of them.
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