Kentucky and Vanderbilt square off Saturday in perhaps the best-matched game of the weekend. Both teams are struggling, looking to find a spark as the regular season begins to come to a close. The teams are more than capable of beating the other, and both realize that this game could very well be a must-win.
Here’s what else you need to know about Saturday’s game:
Kentucky (4-5, 2-5 SEC) at Vanderbilt (3-6, 1-4 SEC)
Kickoff: Sat., Nov. 14, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Weather: 61 degrees, sunny (Weather.com)
Line: Vanderbilt -3, per BOVADA
By the numbers
1- Kentucky is looking for its first win against Vanderbilt in Nashville since 2009. Kentucky barely owns the overall series, 42-41-4. The Wildcats won last year’s matchup, 17-7, in Lexington, Ky.
45- The number of catches sophomore wide receiver Dorian Baker has recorded this season. Before Baker, only two other Wildcats since 2004 have had 45 catches through their first nine games.
27- The Wildcats have won 27 straight games when leading in the third quarter. Gaining ground on Vanderbilt early and often is a must.
Storylines to watch
What about now?
Every week it seems, SEC Country questions in these game day previews, if the day that Kentucky is going to catch a break is on the way. It didn’t happen against Tennessee after the Wildcats had dropped two straight. It didn’t happen against UGA either, after that skid stretched to three. Now, with that stretch at four straight losses, will this actually be the week Kentucky can climb out of the hole it has made for itself? The simple answer to that question is yes. While Tennessee and UGA were large favorites to win those games, a win seems much more feasible for the Wildcats this time. Vanderbilt opened as just a 2.5 point favorite. While Kentucky has its own set of struggles, so do the Commodores, who have only won three games this season. Both teams most recent conference wins came against Missouri. Vanderbilt beat the Tigers 10-3. Kentucky topped the Tigers 21-13. These teams are so evenly matched, that a Kentucky win is certainly attainable.
How will Kentucky handle two quarterbacks?
Last weekend after the UGA loss, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops indicated that he would experiment with the quarterback position in practice this week. Junior Patrick Towles has started all nine games, while backup Drew Barker has played in just two. Towles has the experience, but Stoops has praised Barker’s ability to think on the fly and be quick with the ball. The coaching staff has been mum on what the plan is for this week, but it’s likely that the Wildcats will use some sort of combination, utilizing both quarterbacksr. Towles said this week that he’s certain he’ll be playing in some capacity. It’s possible that two quarterbacks could put Kentucky’s offense out of sync. Towles and Barker have different styles and often times a team’s rhythm is crushed if suddenly a new quarterback abruptly enters a series. Not to mention, Vanderbilt’s defense knows this is likely coming and so it’s prepared accordingly. But if the dual-system goes well and both quarterbacks are able to showcase their strengths, it could keep the Vanderbilt defense off balance and work in Kentucky’s favor. This seems like one of those experiments that could either go very well or very poorly.
How will Kentucky’s defense handle Vanderbilt’s two quarterbacks?
The similarities between these two teams continue. Just like the Wildcats, the Commodores have experimented with a dual-quarterback system, and it seems to be working in their favor. Instead of sophomore Johnny McCrary taking all the reps alone, he now splits time with freshman Kyle Shurmur. Preparing for two quarterbacks certainly puts an extra burden on the Kentucky defense, a unit that has had its struggles this season. The defense played a decent first half against UGA last weekend, holding the Bulldogs to just 10 points in that period. Kentucky’s defense will have to stay on its toes this weekend with McCary and Shurmur. There’s no time for snoozing when defending against a dual-quarterback system.
How will Boom Williams respond?
Sidelined for the UGA after he sustained an elbow injury against Tennessee, sophomore running back Boom Williams is back. Kentucky welcomes back its star, who averages 80.4 yards per game on the ground. Williams will be playing with a protective elbow pad during his first game back and it’ll be interesting to see if that hinders him at all. Kentucky will need Williams to have a strong game if the Wildcats are going to win, but they’ll especially need him to step up if the dual-quarterback system doesn’t work.
Prediction: Kentucky 21, Vanderbilt 17
Kentucky’s skid has gone on far too long for the Wildcats’ liking. This weekend is the time to end it.