Stephen Johnson rushed for a touchdown and converted a big fourth-and-1 play late in the game leading to Austin MacGinnis' 28-yard field goal, while the Wildcats' defense stifled Vanderbilt late to survive with a 20-13 victory on Saturday.
Needing a spark to slow Vanderbilt's momentum after scoring 10 straight points, the Wildcats turned to their ground game led by Benny Snell Jr. (20 carries, 94 yards) and Jojo Kempwith just under 8 minutes remaining. The duo positioned Kentucky to cash in a third and final time on fourth down as Johnson stretched for 1 yard to the Commodores' 19.
Kentucky didn't take a chance on a final fourth-and-1 at the 10, and MacGinnis' kick with 1:38 left provided a cushion that proved huge as Vanderbilt, with no timeouts, quickly drove 59 yards to the 8 seeking at least a tie. But several passes by Vandy's Kyle Shurmur were incomplete, including a fourth-down attempt that went off Kalija Lipscomb's hands with 2 seconds left.
Kentucky (3-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) is now halfway toward its goal of a postseason berth. Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3 SEC) fell short in its quest to give coach Derek Mason his first conference road win.
Kemp added a 4-yard TD run for the Wildcats. Kemp, Johnson and Stanley "Boom" Williams each ran for at least 54 yards as Kentucky gained 258 on 52 attempts.
Most importantly, the Wildcats made huge, timely plays when needed on both sides of the ball to protect a lead that seemed in doubt as the Commodores tried to rally from a 17-3 halftime deficit.
"I told them that there was no way in heck that this wasn't going to come down to being a close game," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "I knew they'd hang in there somehow and make a play, get a turnover, make something happen. And that's what happened."
Vanderbilt's only TD came on Taurean Ferguson's 22-yard fumble return early in the third quarter.
Commodores running back and SEC rushing leader Ralph Webb had 100 yards on 18 carries and Shurmur completed 17 of 29 passes for 141 yards, but he couldn't get the completion he needed late in the game.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores seemed poised to overcome Kentucky behind Webb but stalled on the next drive after getting within 17-13 on Tommy Openshaw's second field goal early in the fourth quarter. They converted just 3 of 12 third-down opportunities and couldn't slow the Wildcats' ground game.
Kentucky: The Wildcats wobbled in the third period with two turnovers but outgained Vanderbilt 307-282. More importantly, they were 3-for-3 on fourth-and-1 and stopped the Commodores on their own fourth-and-1. Johnson offset a tough day throwing the ball (10 of 24, 49 yards, one interception) by running well and getting plenty of help from Kemp and Williams.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores hit the road for the fourth time in five games as they visit Georgia on Saturday.
Kentucky: The Wildcats have a bye before hosting Mississippi State on Oct. 22.