LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky focused more on the outcome than the aesthetics against Vanderbilt, taking the most pride in the clutch plays that made it happen.

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, and the Wildcats’ defense stifled the Commodores 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 Kemp with 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.

“Our main motto has just been finishing and we did a great job,” Kemp said. “We just have to keep it going.”

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 a costly delay-of-game penalty was sandwiched between several incompletions by Kyle Shurmur, including a fourth-down attempt that went off Kalija Lipscomb’s hands in the left corner of the end zone with 2 seconds left.

Relief and celebration followed as Kentucky (3-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) got halfway toward its goal of becoming bowl eligible, a prospect that seemed unlikely after starting 0-2. The Wildcats also got a measure of revenge against Vanderbilt after losing 21-17 last fall in Nashville.

Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3 SEC) meanwhile fell short in its quest to give coach Derek Mason his first conference road win.

Kemp had a 4-yard TD run on a direct snap 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.

Commodores running back and SEC rushing leader Ralph Webb had 100 yards on 18 carries and became the school’s career leader in attempts. Shurmur completed 17 of 29 passes for 141 yards.

“We can’t afford to get behind and play catch-up football,” Mason said. “We have to start faster.”


Vanderbilt: The Commodores converted just 3 of 12 third-down opportunities and couldn’t slow the Wildcats’ ground game. Vandy has dropped all three league contests by 17 combined points.

Kentucky: The Wildcats scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time this season and seemed to be in control after scoring their second TD just before halftime. They sputtered in the third quarter with two turnovers but still outgained Vanderbilt 307-282.


Vanderbilt’s Ryan White fumbled two punts, the second of which was right in the hands of Kentucky cornerback J.D. Harmon. But he couldn’t corral the loose ball while Bryce Lewis did at the ‘Dores’ 7, a reversal of fortune that culminated in Openshaw’s 26-yard field goal that made it close.


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.

AP College Football: collegefootball.ap.org

Gary B. Graves on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GaryBGraves