Thankfully we have what should be an exciting football game to look forward to, which hopefully will take the Big Blue Nation's mind off the unfortunate start to the basketball season.
The game versus Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3 in the SEC) Saturday night in Commonwealth Stadium isn't a 'must win,' but it is a 'must win in order to play in a warm weather bowl game.' Atlanta and Tampa are a heckuva lot warmer than Nashville in December.
Vandy has fallen on hard times of late, losing four in a row. UK, at home, with a newfound offensive effectiveness, should most certainly come out the victor, but Vandy games have historically been close: UK has won the last four games by an average of only six points. Even though Bobby Johnson's club is reeling, I expect the Commodores to battle (smart guys don't give up) for their elusive sixth win, and their first bowl game since 1896 (or something like that).
Commodore Offensive Personnel
Quarterback Mackenzi Adams: 6'3", 215 lb junior -- This year Adams has thrown for 619 yards and five touchdowns to go along with six interceptions. He has rushed for 144 yards on 52 carries (2.8 yards per carry). For his career Adams has completed 172 of 319 passes for 1,886 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His career rushing stats:158 carries for 519 yards and three touchdowns. Adams started the last six games of '07. Last year versus UK Adams threw for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-20 Wildcat victory.
Adams has taken over the starting quarterback spot from Chris Nickson, but after last weeks Florida loss, Nickson may have regained his starting position. Last week Adams was 5 for 8, with one interception. He ran for seven yards on seven carries. More importantly, Vandy did not score while Adams was at the helm.
Quarterback Chris Nickson: 6'1", 212 lb senior -- In '08 Nickson has thrown for 378 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. He's rushed for 351 yards on 84 carries (4.2 yards per carry). In his rather impressive career, Nickson has thrown for 3,239 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 20 interceptions, as well as rushing for 1,272 yards on 304 carries (4.2 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns. Two years ago the former Mr. Football in the state of Alabama (and Earl Bennett) lit up the UK secondary for 446 yards in a classic game at Commonwealth Stadium (a 38-26 UK victory).
As I noted above, Nickson lost his starting quarterback spot to Mackenzi Adams, but he may get another chance today versus UK. He experienced a bit more success than Adams did last week versus the Gators: 7 of 14 for 67 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 10 rushes for 39 yards.
Nickson is the prototypical spread/option quarterback. Which means when he's 'on,' he's extremely dangerous with both his feet and his arm.
Wide receiver Sean Walker: 6'0", 178 lb senior -- This year Walker has become Vandy's top receiver. He's caught 26 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns. That's an exceptional 14.8 yards per catch. He's also rushed 14 times for 105 yards (7.5 yards per carry). For his career, Walker has made 67 catches for 969 yards (14.5 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns. Last year versus UK, Walker caught a 14 yard touchdown pass.
Wide receiver Jamie Graham: 6'0", 190 lb red-shirt freshman -- Graham has made 13 catches for 98 yards and three touchdowns. Graham also started playing basketball for the 'Dores last January.
Wide receiver Justin Wheeler: 6'1", 178 lb junior -- Wheeler has 12 receptions for 113 yards (9.4 yards per catch) and one touchdown. For his career, Wheeler has made 22 catches for 200 yards (9.1 yards per catch) and two touchdowns.
Tight end Brandon Barden: 6'5", 245 lb red-shirt freshman -- The Virginia Tech transfer has made 18 catches for 162 yards (9.0 yards per catch), and two touchdowns.
Running back Jared Hawkins: 5'10", 202 lb junior -- This year Hawkins has rushed for 487 yards on 114 carries and three touchdowns. He's also caught 12 balls for 72 yards and one touchdown. For his career he's ran for 1,052 yards on 217 carries and six touchdowns. He missed the final two games of the '07 campaign after suffering a concussion versus UK.
Commodore Special Teams and Defensive Personnel
Corner back and kick returner D.J. Moore: 5'10", 185 lb junior -- Moore, a First Team All-SEC selection represents a double-threat to the 'Cats. As a corner back Moore has recorded six pass break-ups and four interceptions in '08. Last year he picked off six passes and had 10 pass break-ups. As Vandy's primary return man, Moore averages 15.2 yards per punt return (16 returns), and 19.2 yards per kick-off return (19 returns).
Kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt: 5'11", 185 lb senior -- This year Hahnfeldt is 7 of 10 on his field goal attempts (6-9 beyond 30 yards). But the senior has missed his last four kicks (one kick is listed as a 'team block'). For his career Hahnfeldt is 40 of 64 (62.5%), with a long kick of 51 yards. This year Hahnfeldt has executed 39 kick-offs (7 touchbacks).
Linebacker Patrick Benoist: 6'0", 220 lb junior -- Benoist began starting for Vandy midway through the '07 season. He has recorded 124 career tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. This year Benoist is second in the SEC with 78 tackles (8.7 per game), he has also recorded 5.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. He had a sack last year versus UK.
Linebacker Chris Marve: 6'0", 225 lb red-shirt freshman -- Marve was the Tennessee 5A Football Lineman of the Year his senior season. This year he is second on the team with 74 tackles (8.2 per game).
Strong safety Ryan Hamilton: 6'2", 210 junior -- Hamilton is very experienced, having started every game since the beginning of the '07 season. He has made 184 career tackles, to go along with four interceptions and seven tackles for loss.. This year Hamilton has recorded 73 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. In '06 versus Kentucky he recorded 9 tackles.
Vandy started the year looking like Florida, instead of the hard luck 'Dores we've come to know and rely upon. They opened their season on the road with a 34-13 victory over Miami, OH. They followed that win up with a second-in-a-row win over Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, 24-17. Vandy next welcomed Rice to Nashville, and unceremoniously sent them back to Texas as losers, 38-21. They traveled to Oxford and beat Ole Miss 23-17. Auburn was their next victim, 14-13, in a game played in Nashville.
This is where the good times, and SEC Championship Game talk ended:
- 17-14 loss to Mississippi State -- Vandy recorded only seven first downs in the contest. The 'Dores rushed for 45 yards and threw for an anemic 62 yards. Nickson and Adams were a combined 8 of 19, with two interceptions. The two quarterbacks rushed 14 times for four yards. Ouch. UK, on the contrary, ran for 128 yards against the Bulldogs, and thew for 146 yards.
- 24-14 loss to Georgia -- Knowshon Moreno went off: 172 yards and one touchdown. As a team Georgia ran for 231 yards (5.8 yards per carry). Georgia's electric freshman receiver A. J. Green caught seven balls for 132 yards and a touchdown. Vanderbilt quarterback Mackenzi Adams was 16-32 through the air with two interceptions. Against UK, Georgia rushed for 144 yards (4.8 yards per carry); Moreno ran for 123 yards and three touchdowns.
- 10-7 loss to Duke -- How Vandy lost this game is a mystery to me. Well, actually it's not: Vandy fumbled on their own 15 yard line and Duke went four plays for nine yards. The result was a game winning field goal. But consider this: Vandy won the turnover battle 3-1. Duke only ran for 28 yards. Duke put the ball on the ground five times, but Vandy only recovered one fumble. Duke had seven penalties for 68 yards, Vandy had only three penalties for 33 yards. Vandy quarterback Mackenzi Adams was 14 of 31 for 210 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked four times. Receiver Sean Walker had a big game with six catches for 138 yards and one touchdown.
- 42-14 loss to Florida -- Vandy was down 35-0 at the half (UK was down 42-3 at halftime). Tim Tebow had a stellar day going 12 of 17 for 171 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 88 yards on 11 carries, and two more touchdowns. The Commodore quarterbacks combined to go 12 of 22 with one interception and two touchdowns (both with Nickson at quarterback).
'A Tale of Two Seasons' indeed. But, Bobby Johnson's offense over the last few years has given UK fits, especially in '06 with Chris Nickson taking all of the snaps. So I wouldn't put too much credence into the talk of Vandy being dead. There seems to be something about UK's blue uniforms that bring out the best in the 'Dores, and I expect nothing less than a stellar effort tonight.
SEC Statistical Comparison
Scoring Offense -- UK 23.5 points per game (7th), Vandy 20.2 ppg (9th).
Scoring Defense -- UK 20.1 ppg (7th), Vandy 19.3 ppg (6th).
Total Offense -- UK 314.7 yards per game (9th), Vandy 255.7 ypg (12th).
Total Defense -- UK 324.5 ypg (9th), Vandy 334.3 ypg (10th).
Rushing Offense -- UK 135.8 ypg (8th), Vandy 144.9 ypg (7th).
Rushing Defense -- UK 128.6 ypg (8th), Vandy 140.3 ypg (10th).
Pass Offense -- UK 178.9 ypg (8th), Vandy 110.8 ypg (12th).
Pass Defense -- UK 195.9 ypg (9th), Vandy 194.0 ypg (7th).
Kick-off Return average -- UK 26.7 yards (2nd), Vandy 19.5 yards (11th).
Punt Return average -- UK 9.9 yards (8th), Vandy 12.0 yards (5th).
Interceptions -- UK 12 (t4th), Vandy 14 (t3rd).
Net Punting -- UK 35.1 yards (9th), Vandy 35.8 yards (7th).
Sacks By -- UK 25 (2nd), Vandy 26 (1st).
Sacks Against -- UK 10 (1st), Vandy 15 (7th).
Third Down Conversion -- UK 31.8% (12th), Vandy 35.0% (10th).
Opponents Third Down Conversion -- UK 32.2% (6th), Vandy 38.1% (10th).
Turnover Margin -- UK +6 (3rd), Vandy +6 (2nd) - Nine games.
Red Zone Efficiency -- UK 25-36 - 69.4% (10th), Vandy 24-27 - 90% (3rd).
Red Zone Defense -- UK 19-25 - 76% (4th), Vandy 19-30 - 63% (2nd).
UK's SEC Standouts
Tim Masthay leads the SEC in punting with a 45.9 yard average.
Micah Johnson is eighth in the SEC in tackles, averaging 7.9 per game (63 total). Johnson is also seventh in the SEC with 9.0 tackle for loss.
Braxton Kelley is tenth in the SEC in tackles, averaging 7.4 per game (74 total).
Johnny Williams is tenth in the SEC with 4.0 sacks.
Trevard Lindley is second in the SEC with 13 passes defended (nine break-ups and four interceptions).
I'm betting UK covers the spread (get it?) offense, and doesn't allow Chris Nickson (if he plays) to go all Tebow on 'em. Both teams get to the opposing quarterback with regularity, but UK is a little better at protecting their signal caller than Vanderbilt. I say that trend continues.
I'm excited about UK's offensive look over the last six quarter, and I say they only get better this week.
Kentucky - 30 Vandy - 20.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, get number lucky number 7!