It's strange to come into the Vanderbilt Commodores game an underdog in our own stadium. That's an experience I can safely say that I have never had before. I'd like to hope that I never have it again. With all that angst now out there for the world to see, let's take a look at how this game shapes up.
How these two teams have played so far
Reliving the misery that is the Kentucky Wildcats season is unnecessarily cruel. Let's just say that injuries and youth have placed us firmly in the position of SEC doormat, along with the Auburn Tigers. That's cold comfort, to be sure.
Vandy has had good games and bad games. They have basically beaten everyone that is notably worse than them, and lost to everyone else except for the Missouri Tigers, whom they upset in Columbia. Yes, that would be the same Missouri team that thrashed us last week.
The Commodores played the South Carolina Gamecocks tough in Nashville, but that was the very first game of the year. They sneaked by Auburn in Nashville and handled UMass and Presbyterian (FCS) at home as well. So Vanderbilt comes into this game having defeated 2 SEC teams, and 2 inferior teams.
Offensively, Vanderbilt is the better team in every aspect. They average 49 yards more per game on the ground, 34 more through the air, 5.4 more points per game and 83 total yards more than the Wildcats.
The star running back for Vanderbilt is Zac Stacy, who average 5.2 yards per carry and has a total of 683 yards in nine games. Stacy had big games against Presbyterian (174 yards) and Auburn (169 yards). He also had a very good game against Georgia, adding to the suggestion that UK's performance against the Dawgs was not particularly unique.
Of course, Wildcats fans remember what happened last year, when Stacy ran all over Kentucky in Nashville. Any hopes the Wildcats entertain about winning this game revolve around stopping Stacy, particularly on first down.
Better defenses have easily held Stacy to manageable numbers, so the Vanderbilt offensive line is not a thing to fear. But Kentucky is anything but a "better" defense, so stopping Stacy has to be job 1.
Brian Kimbrow is another solid back for Vanderbilt, but he has mainly gotten time against weaker teams.
Vanderbilt has a very good quarterback in Jordan Rodgers, who as most everyone knows is the brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The younger brother has a QB rating of 133.9, good enough for 60th in FBS, and a solid 208 yards per game.
Rodgers' favorite targets are Jordan Matthews (13.8 YPC) and Chris Boyd (18.7 YPC).
Vanderbilt's defense is also statistically superior to Kentucky, but it is somewhat less superior than the offense. Still, the Commodores are better and are allowing 8.8 points fewer per game than Kentucky.
Kentucky's rushing defense is actually statistically superior to Vanderbilt's, albeit by a microscopic margin. UK and Vandy are ranked right beside each other as 79th and 80th in the FBS respectively. Vandy has struggled to stop the run all year, and the interesting thing is, their schedule is significantly weaker than that of Kentucky.
Defensive standouts for the Commodores include junior safety Kenny Ladler who averages 7.29 tackles per game, and junior linebacker Chase Garnham, who averages 6.25 and has 5 sacks.
Vanderbilt is substantially better than Kentucky in defending the pass, yielding 87 fewer yards per game than the Wildcats. In fact, Vanderbilt is third in the league against the pass, a big improvement over last year.
Junior corner Andre Hal and senior corner Trey Wilson are the leading pass defenders for the Commodores. Wilson leads the team in interceptions with 2.
Wrapping it up
It would be nice if Kentucky could expect to win this football game tomorrow, but unfortunately they are going to have to play much better football than they have lately to pull it off. Vanderbilt, however, is not a big-scoring team and is the second worst team in the SEC in third-down conversions, significantly worse than Kentucky, who is (believe it or not) 7th in that stat. Vanderbilt is also dead last in red zone conversions and 10th in penalties, so it isn't as if Kentucky is playing a team that has dominated anyone other than very weak football teams.
But UK is going to have to move the football, and as limited as Kentucky's passing game has been, you have to wonder if Vanderbilt just won't stack the box like everyone else has done and dare us to throw the football. UK has run the ball well at times, and Vanderbilt is not a good run-stopping team, but Kentucky hasn't shown the ability to consistently move the football on the ground very often.
To be honest, Kentucky has a chance in this game. It will require better play overall, but honestly we are due for an improvement and we are playing at home. Who knows, maybe this will be the game that these young guys finally deliver a win for the demoralized Kentucky faithful.
Anything can happen, but I'm not holding my breath.