It’s that time of year again, for Kentucky and Vanderbilt to fight it out over who wants to avoid the bottom of the SEC East. Except this year, and the past two, have been different. The Commodores seem to have done the unthinkable and pass Kentucky in the SEC pecking order. The past two years have actually seen the Wildcats get drubbed by a team that is traditionally their equal, if not inferior. And the Cats have to go to Nashville again, the MusicCity has hardly been kind to UK lately. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Vanderbilt has come back down to Earth a bit following last year’s nine-win campaign. Looking at the numbers, the Dores aren’t really good at anything in particular. Their offense is average at best. And they are downright bad at running the football. They average 20 yards per game less than Kentucky’s “Air Raid” offense does this year. The Vandy teams that Franklin beat UK with did so on the ground with a power running game. That seems unlikely this year. Vandy now relies on a middle of the road passing game and lots of misdirection/trick plays to move the football. Unfortunately the Cats defense has proven vulnerable to trickery. Jordan Mathews is a great receiver, but Patton Robinette scares no one at quarterback.
Vanderbilt defense was expected to be a strength this year but has proven to be below average. Even after UMass and Austin Peay combined for 10 points against VU, they still give up 28.8 points per game on defense. By comparison, UK gives up 29.6 on average. So there isn’t much of a gap, especially considering that the Cats have had tougher sledding thus far in terms of competition. (Swap Louisville for UAB and Alabama for Ole Miss) The one place that the Commodore defense does excel is in turnovers, they forced Florida QB Tyler Murphy into four of them into their upset of the Gators.
Records can be deceiving. Vanderbilt has five wins , three over cupcakes and two over injury-decimated Florida and Georgia. So that 5-4 record isn’t really that impressive. On the other hand, the Dawgs and Gators would have both topped the Dores in the past, regardless of injuries. Franklin has built a smart, tough football team that may be a little short on talent. Basically what Kentucky expects to be next year.
If the Cats defense can play disciplined and not allow any big plays to Mathews and the offense avoids turnovers, they have a much better chance to win than many believe. If those things happen, they should win. Too many are focused on that final score against the worst UF team in a decade. Hopefully your are reading this from your phone from Nashville, but if not, sit down and enjoy this game from your couch. Or at your favorite watering hole. Today is going to be a good day.