Game Day Preview: What you need to know about Vanderbilt-Kentucky
Vanderbilt is back in Nashville to take on another SEC East rival — the Kentucky Wildcats. This will be the 88th meeting between the two schools, and Vandy has a winning record at home.
The Commodores lost to the Wildcats last season by just 10 points. However, Vanderbilt is the slight favorite in this season’s matchup. The team has already beat one conference opponent (Missouri) at home, so back-to-back conference wins in Nashville, Tenn. wouldn’t be so bad for a team that has struggled offensively all season.
Here’s what else you need to know about Saturday’s game:
Kentucky Wildcats (4-5, 2-5 SEC) at Vanderbilt Commodores (3-6, 1-4 SEC)
Kickoff: Sat., Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Weather: 60 degrees (Weather.com)
Line: Vanderbilt -3 (Sportsbetting.ag)
By the numbers
5 – The number of Commodores that are facing their prep teammates on Saturday. Inside linebacker Darreon Herring, defensive end Jonathan Wynn, and running back Dallas Rivers will be reunited with former teammate and Kentucky defensive end Jabari Johnson, except on opposite sides of the field. Vanderbilt safety Ryan White will see former teammates defensive end Jason Hatcher and kicker Max Strong. Punter Tommy Openshaw will also get to see Kentucky offensive lineman Jordan Swindle; they played together at Creekside High School (Fairburn, Ga.).
3 – Vanderbilt is ranked third in the SEC and No. 19 nationally as a three-&-out defense leader. The Commodores defense only allows opposing offenses to average around 4.67 three-&-out possessions a game, so Kentucky’s offense will have to find a way to convert tough third downs.
43.2 – The amount of penalty yards per game Vanderbilt has racked up this season. This number is a noticeable difference from last year’s 56.5 yards per game, but limiting penalties is crucial to Vanderbilt winning this game. The Commodores are averaging six infractions a game, and they’re ranked sixth in the SEC for fewest penalty yards.
Storylines to watch
What will Ralph Webb do this week?
Webb ran a 74-yard touchdown against the Florida Gators that helped Vanderbilt stay in the game last week. This week, his presence will be just as crucial. The sophomore running back has stepped up this season in light of Vanderbilt’s instability at quarterback, and coach Derek Mason’s goal against Kentucky is to find more of a balance between the run and pass game.
Webb has Vanderbilt’s running game covered as the team’s leading rusher. He already set team freshman records, rushing 907 yards in 212 attempts, and Webb only needs 67 more yards until becoming Vanderbilt’s all-time leading sophomore rusher.
Kentucky’s quarterback situation
Derek Mason predicted during his Tuesday press conference that Kentucky would implement a dual-quarterback system. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has yet to confirm Mason’s theory, and Patrick Towles is still the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. Drew Barker is right behind him, and the redshirt freshman is prepared for game repetitions if the offense needs him.
Will Zach Cunningham’s defensive leadership stand out again?
The inside linebacker has become one of the SEC’s top tacklers after starting in late September. His performance against Florida was one to remember — the sophomore had 10 tackles, a quarterback sack, two tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries.
He’s an SEC pace setter after just six starts this season with 45 solo tackles, 69 total stops, 3.5 sacks, and 12.5 tackles for loss. He’s No. 1 in the SEC with three fumble recoveries and is tied for third in the NCAA with three forced fumbles. Cunningham is a clear threat to Kentucky’s offense.
Stanley “Boom” Williams is back
Running back Boom Williams sat out against Georgia last week, but he is Kentucky’s greatest offensive threat. The sophomore is the Wildcats’ running game, and he’s got help with junior running back Jojo Kemp.
There are questions regarding whether or not Stoops will use both Towles and Barker, but whatever those two can’t handle, Boom will. He’s at 1,049 career rushing yards and has 563 this season alone.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 17, Kentucky 14
The Kentucky and Vanderbilt defenses are similar, and Mason said it himself. This will not be a high scoring game because both offenses are unstable. The Commodores have struggled at quarterback with turnovers all season, just like the Wildcats. Vanderbilt’s defense will win 70 percent of the game on its own, but the offense and special teams will need to put some points on the board. The Commodores have a good shot at seizing another conference win at home, but it’ll be a battle down to the fourth quarter.