One of the longer-running Q&A's we have at A Sea of Blue is the one with Anchor of Gold, the outstanding Vanderbilt Commodores community at SB Nation. Thiis year, Christian D'Andrea and I have once again shared questions and answers about the game tomorrow, and the teams in general.
Be sure to read his questions and my answers here at Anchor of Gold. And now, without further ado...
1. Vandy has one of the weakest schedules in the league, and UK one of the strongest. Do you think that will wind up mattering in this game? Why or why not?
There's no doubt that UK has faced some beasts this season. However, having one of the weakest schedules in the SEC still means having a pretty tough road to travel. The 'Dores have faced South Carolina, Texas A&M, Missouri, and depleted Florida and Georgia teams so far this year. Kentucky gained some key experience by facing Alabama and Louisville this season, but Vandy hasn't been playing UMass every week. I think both teams are battle tested and will be ready to go on Saturday.
2. What Kentucky weaknesses do you hope to see Vanderbilt exploit on offense? On defense?
Kentucky's defense hasn't been great this year. They're giving up over 200 yards per game on the ground. That'd be a big boost for a Vandy running game that has been solid, but not spectacular this season. I'd be thrilled to see a big game from Jerron Seymour as his breakout season (as mini-Zac Stacy) continues.
On defense, the 'Dores held Jalen Whitlow to a 5-12 day the last time these two met. He's grown since these two teams last met, but the Vanderbilt secondary has gotten stronger as well. I'm interested to see if Bob Shoop can keep Kentucky to another low-scoring affair on Saturday.
3. That upset you pulled at Florida shocked the world. What, other than Florida's absurdly long list of injuries, helped you win that game? What can you take away from it to bring to the Kentucky game?
Vanderbilt capitalized on Florida mistakes, turning three Tyler Murphy interceptions into 21 points that effectively swung this one in the team's favor. However, they don't win that game unless the defense pulls together a stellar bend-but-don't-break effort. The 'Dores may have given up more than 300 passing yards to Murphy, but they held tight to stall UF drives in Commodore territory and kept the Gators' running game from ever getting started.
Unfortunately, that defense hasn't been consistent this season. Slow starts have doomed this team, and that could lead to trouble against the Wildcats. Vandy needs to roll last week's momentum into a hot start that shuts down the UK running game and forces Whitlow to pass early and often at Dudley Field.
4. Your starting quarterback, Austin Carta-Samuels, is likely out for Saturday's game. What does the offense look like under Patton Robinette? Are you comfortable that Robinette can execute the offense well enough to win the game?
Robinette looked good against Georgia (for a freshman), bad against Texas A&M, and utterly neutral against Florida, where an early lead and conservative planning kept him from having to do too much against the Gators. He is capable of being a game managing QB right now; he's shown an accurate touch and the speed to scramble for first downs. Unfortunately, his timing is still a split second behind where it needs to be, and he misses opportunities to create big gains as a result.
I'm confident that he can do enough to win on Saturday, especially now that the coaching staff has proven that they can call a game that works with his strengths. Robinette is slowly getting better with every snap he takes. If Vandy needs someone to go 80 yards in 60 seconds, I'd be nervous. If they need Robinette to protect a lead on a day where the running game is gaining 4-5 yards per carry, he should be able to handle that without difficulty.
5. Vandy's defense has been pretty good at getting penetration and tackles for loss - you got 9 vs. Florida last weekend alone. To what do you attribute your success in that area? What have teams, like Georgia and Ole Miss, done that helped them avoid TFL's?
Vanderbilt's D-Line looked great last week, but that was also against a Florida team that was missing their top three OTs due to injury, including a season-ending scooter accident. Still, the combination of Kyle Woestmann, Walker May, and Caleb Azubike gives the 'Dores a strong, athletic set of bookends in the trenches. They've been flustered by stronger SEC O-Lines this season, but they have the potential to be disruptive on any given Saturday.
Behind them, this linebacking corps has been in flux. Early injuries to seniors Karl Butler and Chase Garnham left the team shorthanded in weeks past, but both are (tentatively) healthy now, and that's bad news for Kentucky. Both are athletic defenders who can man the middle and be equally effective rushing the passer or dropping into coverage.
6. Predict the game outcome. What will be the key factor upon which the outcome will revolve?
I like Vandy in a 34-21 win at home. The 'Dores have scored at least 24 points per game in every contest this season, and I don't think that Kentucky has the horses to break that streak on Saturday. On the other side of the ball, the Vandy defense is riding a hot streak while the Wildcats are averaging about 16 points per game against SEC opponents. I think UK will have their moments, but ultimately Vanderbilt will earn their third straight win in the series.
The key factor? I think Vanderbilt will establish enough of a running game to take the pressure off of Patton Robinette and allow the Commodores to move the ball efficiently. If the team can keep Robinette comfortable and give him the time he needs to identify plays downfield, guys like Seymour, Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause should be able to take care of the rest.
Many thanks to Christian and Anchor of Gold for the blog swap. We look forward to a fun game tomorrow.