Kentucky returns to Lexington this week to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. While both programs have been the perineal doormats of the SEC east historically, the two schools have gone in opposite directions over the past two seasons. This year Vanderbilt has hit some snags, but has also pulled off four victories and are sitting at 4-4 heading into this weekends game.
What you really need to know about Vanderbilt:
The Commodores are a very deceptive team, in more ways than one. First, they are not as good as their record might indicate. The team’s 4 wins came against Presbyterian, UMASS, a bad Auburn team, and Missouri. Second, the team seems like a power running offense, but is actually a stronger passing team statistically. Vanderbilt uses the run to set up play action passes to one of their two receivers, and banks on a complicated and aggressive defense to finish opponents off. The offense can be hit or miss, but the defense has played well in almost every game this season. The only real problem when evaluating Vanderbilt as a team, is figuring out how seriously to take them and which version of Vanderbilt will be showing up on Saturday. When they’re on their game, the Commodores can play a team like South Carolina out to a 4 point loss in a nail-biter. When they’re off, they lose 48-3 to the same Georgia team that Kentucky hung with to the very end.
The players you really need to know for Vanderbilt:
#11 – Jordan Rodgers – QB
When you think of the most talented quarterbacks in the SEC, Rodgers is usually not at the top of the list. Playing for VU in Nashville does make him relatively obscure when in the discussion with Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw, A.J. McCarron, and the rest of the elite guys, but the truth is that Aaron Rodgers’ kid brother is a very talented player. He has really mastered the use of play-action and has thrown for 1458 yards this season.
#25 – Brian Kimbrow – RB
Senior running back Zac Stacy gets most of the headlines when discussing Vandy, and he should. He’s averaging 85.4 yards per game on the ground and has been an established playmaker since he arrived in Nashville. That said, Brian Kimbrow might be his team’s most explosive player and has not disappointed this year despite being a true freshman. Kimbrow is averaging a ridiculous 8.7 yards per carry as a rusher and is a dangerous return man. He’s a threat to break a big play every time he touches the ball.
#1 – Kenny Ladler – DB
Those that follow football recruiting might remember Ladler as a part of the Stephenson High School graduating class that brought UK Ray Sanders, Ronnie Shields, and Jabari Johnson. Now, Ladler is in his third season as a staring safety for his team and has emerged as one of their top defensive players. He leads the team with 51 total tackles, has a sack, an interception and a forced fumble from his safety position and is capable of supporting the run with big hits or dropping deep into coverage.
#36 – Chase Garnham – LB
If Ladler is the star of Vanderbilt’s defense, Garnham is option 1a. From his linebacker spot, he’s piled up 50 total tackles, 7 tackles-for-a-loss, and 5 sacks. He’s a nightmare for opposing offenses as he recovers quickly and is extremely instinctual at analyzing his oppositions offense quickly.
Top 3 Matchups to watch
UK’s Avery Williamson vs. VU’s Zac Stacy
When it comes to shifty runners, Stacy is up there with the best of them. He can run the off-tackle play equally as effectively as he can the counter or screen. Williamson’s task will be to make sure that he doesn’t over-pursue or underestimate Stacy’s ability as a football player because of his size. So much of what Vandy does o offense revolves around Stacy, that shutting him down should be priority number one.
UK’s Martavius Neloms vs. VU’s Jordan Rodgers
If Neloms is the leader of the Kentucky defense, he’s going to have to keep his troops ready this week. Vanderbilt’s offense uses play-action frequently and a young Kentucky secondary could get burnt quickly if they’re not careful. It will be up to Neloms to get his squad in position and keep them from biting on the fakes.
UK’s Jalen Whitlow vs. VU’s Kenny Ladler
Vanderbilt likes to be extremely aggressive on defense and a guy like Ladler is tailor-made for this scheme. Whitlow will have to be careful wen he’s under center, as Ladler could be dropping into coverage, blitzing, faking the blitz, or even spying him on any given play. With Whitlow’s struggles as a passer so far this season, Vanderbilt is likely to stack the box and keep someone in to stop Whitlow from utilizing his running ability to pick up yards.
Potential breakout players:
#32 – Miles Simpson – LB
Vanderbilt has a stable of athletic all-purpose backs that are much quicker than they are big. While Avery Williamson and Bud Dupree should have little trouble taking them down when they run inside, the backs are probably all too fast for these big guys to chase them around on the edges. If Simpson can contain the running backs and keep them covered on passing plays, he could have the game of his life.
#14 – Patrick Towles – QB
Towles had a rough go around last week against Missouri, but the reality remains that he is the quarterback of the future for this team. Vanderbilt is probably going to stack the box against the run (and they should), so somebody is going to have to at least threaten to burn them deep. We know Whitlow hasn’t been that guy yet this season, so Towles could be poised for a big game.
#17 – Zach Blaylock – DB
Vandy takes their shots down the field and a good defensive back could have a field day against them. Due to his athleticism and speed, Blaylock could be that DB. He’ll be in deep coverage more than anyone but Neloms, but has more potential as a center fielder than anyone else in the roster. If he follows his assignments and doesn’t get sucked in by the play-action, he could have a monster day.
Key for a Kentucky win:
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers. Vanderbilt is too good of a football team to play the game As sloppy as the Cats played last week and hope to win. On top of turnovers, Kentucky MUST establish some kind of passing offense to keep an aggressive defense honest. If the Wildcats can protect the ball and keep Vanderbilt on their toes, the Cats have a good chance to pull off only their second win of the season.
Kentucky 21 – Vanderbilt 19