Kentucky tight end Brenden Bates, center, makes a catch past...

Kentucky tight end Brenden Bates, center, makes a catch past Vanderbilt linebacker CJ Taylor (1) and safety Marlen Sewell, right, in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Credit: AP/George Walker IV

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Cornerback Maxwell Hairston had a pair of pick-6s, Ray Davis rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns and Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 45-28 on Saturday in an SEC opener for both teams.

““I was just doing my job,” Hairston said. “When you do your job, the ball just comes your way.”

After starting the season with three home victories over nonconference opponents, Kentucky began its Southeastern Conference schedule with its first road win. The Wildcats (4-0, 1-0) started strong, scoring three first quarter touchdowns, two on offense as well as a 29-yard pick six by Hairston.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said it feels good to get the first league win, especially on the road.

“Getting off to a fast start on the road for an 11 o'clock kickoff was something of importance for us, and we stressed that and it was great to see,” Stoops said. “There were obviously some moments in there that are just kind of sloppy ... It gets very, I don't want to say concerning, it gets frustrating at times.”

Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-1) has lost three straight. Coach Clark Lea said he was disappointed in both the result and how his Commodores played.

“You look at 21 points off turnovers, two interceptions that went for touchdowns,” Lea said. “That will never be a winning formula.”

Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary (13) throws a pass against Vanderbilt...

Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary (13) throws a pass against Vanderbilt in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Credit: AP/George Walker IV

Vanderbilt began to find its offensive stride late in the first half, putting up 10 points on a pair of six-play drives to send the game to halftime trailing 24-10.

AJ Swann entered Saturday with 1,062 yards passing this season to lead the SEC and rank fourth among FBS quarterbacks in both categories, but he was held to 189 yards on 16-of-40 passing Saturday with three interceptions. Lea said Swann is still dealing with a bruised elbow.

“We've got to monitor AJ's health and availability as we move forward, but we certainly need mroe from that position,” Lea said.

Hairston closed out Kentucky’s scoring with a 54-yard interception return for his second touchdown of the game with just over four minutes remaining. He’s the first player in Kentucky history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in a game, and he tied the SEC record as well.

Kentucky wide receiver Barion Brown, right, celebrates his first down...

Kentucky wide receiver Barion Brown, right, celebrates his first down catch against Vanderbilt cornerback Martel Hight (25) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Credit: AP/George Walker IV

“Did you see what Max did today? Two pick-6s,” Davis said. “Crazy thing is, me and Max talked about this all week. This game meant so much to him. He made a statement today. Look at the man, he had a good day.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Kentucky: Davis’ two touchdowns were into familiar end zones. He transferred to Kentucky from Vanderbilt after last season, when he ran for over 1,000 yards, and played a key role in the Commodores ending their 26-game SEC losing streak in a road game at Kentucky. In that game, he rushed for 129 yards.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores lost their third straight game, their first home defeat of the season. After catching two touchdowns in Vanderbilt’s first three games of the seasons, senior wide receiver Will Sheppard has been kept out of the end zone in consecutive contests. He caught just two balls for 31 yards on 10 targets Saturday.

SECONDARY WOES

Vanderbilt safety Jaylen Mahoney’s afternoon lasted just two defensive snaps after he was disqualified for targeting Wildcats receiver Dane Key following a 14-yard reception with 12:30 remaining in the first quarter. Last week, Mahoney was knocked out of Vanderbilt’s loss at UNLV with an injured hip.

The Commodores were already without injured safeties De’Rickey Wright (ankle) and Savion Riley (upper body) who did not dress for the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky received 10 votes in this week’s AP Top 25 poll and could enter the rankings after Saturday’s decisive win extended their undefeated start to the season.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Hosts Florida on Sept. 30.

Vanderbilt: Hosts Missouri on Sept. 30.

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME