The Kentucky Wildcats (4-5, 1-4) travel down I-65 to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (4-5, 1-5) in a 12:21 kick-off at Vanderbilt Stadium. Vandy, coming off two close losses -- last week to Florida (26-21) and two weeks ago against Arkansas (31-28) -- will be looking to capitalize on their recent solid play with an actual victory. As for the Cats, well, a win today and suddenly, almost unbelievably, a bowl game and 6-6 regular season become attainable.
It won't be easy, though. Vandy, since losing by 34 to Alabama on October 8th, have three razor-close losses, the two mentioned above, and one more to Georgia (33-28), and they have a convincing 44-21 win over Army. The 'Dores are playing good football, so far, though, not good enough to win against SEC competition (save their 30-7 win over Ole Miss).
Although the 'Cats have won 12 of the last 15 meetings between the two teams (losing in '08, '03, '00), that stat is out the window as the teams do battle today. Commodore head coach James Franklin has his squad believing in themselves, and Kentucky, with a new starting quarterback who has miraculously breathed life back into the 'Cats, are fighting for respectability.
Meet the 'Dores
Vanderbilt is led on the offensive side of the ball by JUCO-transfer, quarterback Jordan Rodgers (6'2" 205-pound junior) -- Yes, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' brother. Rodgers redshirted the 2010 season at Vandy after injuring his shoulder. Attending Butte JC, Rodgers led his team to the junior college national championship and a perfect 12-0 mark in 2008.
This year with the 'Dores, Rodgers has proved to be a solid passer and very good with his legs (he ran track at Butte). Through the air, Rodgers has completed 68 of 133 passes (51.1%) for 959 yards, tossing five touchdowns and five interceptions. He has rushed for 277 yards on 68 carries (4.1 yards per carry), scoring two touchdowns.
In Vandy's last two games, versus Florida and Arkansas, Rodgers combined to throw for 537 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. This guy is dangerous, and UK's secondary must play well today in order for the 'Cats to win.
The power behind the 'Dores offense, though, is 5'9" 208-pound junior running back Zac Stacy (a very CoShik Williams-like 5'9" 208-pounds). Stacy is No. 6 in the SEC so far this season, rushing for 756 yards (84.0 yards per game) on 110 carries (an incredibly strong 6.9 ypc). Stacy is also a pass catching threat, having snagged 16 passes for 78 yards (4.9 yards per catch) on the season. True freshman Jerron Seymour takes a bit of the ball carrying load off of Stacey. Seymour, another "little" guy at 5'7" 190-pounds, has rushed for 217 yards on 61 carries (3.6 ypc) and scored four touchdowns.
Vanderbilt sports another football superstar connection, as the team's leading receiver, Jordan Matthews (6'3" 202-pound sophomore), is a cousin of Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice. And lately, Matthews has been playing like Rice: Over the last two games (versus Florida and Arkansas), Matthews has 15 receptions for 321 yards (that's a good year for most college receivers) and two touchdowns. On the season, Matthews has 23 catches for 438 yards (19.0 ypc) and three touchdowns.
UK DB's beware.
Jonathan Krause, a 5'11" 182-pound sophomore, is second on the team with 21 catches, good or 149 yards (7.1 ypc). Chris Boyd, another deep threat to go along with Matthews, has 17 catches for 283 yards (16.6 ypc) and five touchdowns -- That's a touchdown almost every third catch.
Running back Wesley Tate (6'1" 225-pound sophomore) has been lining up as a receiver and also catching the ball out of the backfield, and has accounted for 18 receptions for 152 yards (8.4 ypr).
The unquestioned leader of the Vanderbilt defense is senior linebacker Chris Marve (6'0" 242-pounds). Marve, in his tremendous Commodore career, has registered 371 tackles and 33 tackles for loss. This season the All-SEC performer once again leads the 'Dores with 65 take-downs, to go along with 6.0 tackles for loss, one sack, and one interception. Another all league player on the 'Dores defense is senior defensive back Casey Hayward, who has recorded five interceptions, 6.5 tackles for loss, and nine pass breakups.
Both of these players should concern Joker Phillips. They're both ball hawks who have uncanny anticipation skills, and are capable of gaining ground on either quarterbacks, running backs, or receivers.
Junior defensive tackle Rob Lohr (6'4" 290-pounds) is another concern for UK's offense. Lohr leads the 'Dores in tackles for loss with 11.5, while also leading the team with 5.0 sacks on the year. The man Lohr is tied with for most team sacks is senior defensive end Tim Fugger, who has become one of the premiere pass rushers in the SEC.
Big Blue's Big 3
Needless to say, the Commodores defense is experienced and talented. Today, though, countering that experience and talent, are UK's inexperienced quarterback/running back tandem of freshman Max Smith, who will be making his second career QB start, and junior CoShik Williams, who will be making his third career start at tailback.
But, looking at the numbers the two youngsters have put up in their last few contests -- plus the drastically improved play of receiver Matt Roark -- and hope is replenished after being left for dead weeks ago.
In his last two games, Kentucky quarterback Max Smith has thrown for 457 yards on 45 of 69 passing (65.2%), two touchdowns, and ZERO interceptions. Against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, I know, but so much improved over the quarterback production from the first several weeks of the year, and many of those early-season games came against less threatening teams than Miss. State and Ole Miss.
Running back CoShik Williams, since taking over for the injured Raymond Sanders three games ago, has rushed for 323 yards on 62 carries (5.2 ypc) and two touchdowns. Williams has given the 'Cats a physical running game, while at the same time a burner in the backfield. And not to be left out, Lazarus ... uh, I mean Matt Roark. Roark, in one of the greatest reversal of fortune stories ... ever! in his last two games has caught 20 passes for 232 yards (11.6 ypr).
Sometimes a quarterback and receiver develop chemistry quickly, or maybe, Smith has played catch with Roark for the last year or so and that's the reason they are so familiar with one another ... whatever the reason, the QB and receiver are locked-in, and that's a good thing.
The 'Cats are playing for a lot today. I think they know. I think they'll respond.
Prediction: UK 20 Vandy 17
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!