Well, here we are. I can't remember a Kentucky Wildcats football team that's taken a beating this bad in the realm of public opinion since the Joker Phillips era. For the first time, Mark Stoops and his staff have faced major questions concerning player development, scheme, and locker room control.
Some of that criticism is warranted, some of it isn't. But it needs to be mentioned that this is the second season in a row that Kentucky has come out of the gate at full speed only to crumble at the stretch. Some of that has to do with a lack of depth and increase in competition, and some of it does have to do with mentality and coaching.
This year felt different because Kentucky beat two SEC teams early in the season, they hung with Florida and Auburn and honestly should have beaten both. But all the good feelings of early season success are again gone, and Kentucky is in a fight for its postseason life, on the road. Beat Vanderbilt, the team is likely headed to a bowl. Lose and they are looking at going 1-2 in the last three games and staying at home for the holidays.
The Vanderbilt Commodores have one of the worst offenses in the country paired with one of the best defenses in the country. They just took Florida to the limit in Gainesville and look like an improved football team. Can Kentucky fans say the same about their own team? Have the Wildcats improved at all this season?
Let's get to know the Commodores.
School: Vanderbilt University
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Famous Alumni/Attendees: Pedro Alvarez (infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates), Earl Bennett (NFL Wide Receiver), Festus Ezeli (Warriors Center), Jay Cutler (Most Disliked QB in the NFL), Will Wofford (Pro-Bowl Offensive Lineman), Will Perdue (NBA player former teammate of Michael Jordan), Skip Bayless (Profesional Windbag)
Mascot: Mr. Commodore. The most unoriginal name for a mascot in the history of mascots.
Coach: Derek Mason (6-15)
Current Record: 3-6 (1-4)
Current Ranking: #104 according to real time RPI (Kentucky is #79)
Vegas Says: Vanderbilt -3
Commodore Offense: The 'Dores have one of the worst offenses in the entire country. Nationally, they rank 106th in passing yards, 89th in rushing yards, and are ranked 125th in average points per game at 16.0 per contest.
As far as the conference is concerned, they are next to last in total offense, third from last in passing offense, and tenth in rushing offense. Obviously running the football is what this team wants to do. Sophomore Ralph Webb is the main man carrying the rock for Vandy and is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing. He's had a solid season with 811 yards and five touchdowns. I actually think Webb can be one of the better rushers in the SEC before his career at Vandy is over. Webb has gone over 100 yards twice this season, and he put up 118 yards on a staunch Florida defense in the Swamp.
As for the passing game, there isn't much there. Sophomore Johnny McCrary is the quarterback and he's had a less than stellar year throwing for 1,529 yards, six touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He's been progressively worse as the season has gone on and hasn't thrown for over 100 yards in three straight games. Against Missouri he threw for 47 yards, against Houston he threw for 24 yards, and against Florida he threw for 30 yards. That's not good, folks.
Here's the deal: Vandy is going to line up and try to ram the football down Kentucky's throat. The Wildcats' run defense continues to be an issue and is ranked third to last in the SEC. Here are the yardage numbers Kentucky has allowed on the ground dating back to the Auburn game: 152, 204, 249, and 300.
The good news is that Vanderbilt is not nearly as talented as Kentucky's last four opponents. But Matt Elam and the rest of the defensive line, as well as the linebackers, have to play better. They have been getting blown off the ball lately and have looked completely lost. The loss of Melvin Lewis hurt this defense more than we all thought it would. There just isn't an equal in regards to stuffing the middle.
This is a gut-check game for the 'Cats defense. Vandy is one dimensional. Stop the run and you have a great chance of winning the game.
Commodore Defense: The Vandy defense is tied 12th in the country for points allowed at 17.4 per contest. Kentucky is 108th in country in scoring offense at 21 points per game. In Kentucky's last four games, they averaged 16.75 points per game. This isn't good, folks.
Vanderbilt is fifth in the SEC in total defense, allowing 316 yards per game. Kentucky is getting 364 yards per game. Vanderbilt is seventh in the SEC in passing defense, allowing 203 yards per game. Kentucky is getting 228 yards per game through the air. Vanderbilt is second in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing only 112 yards per game. Kentucky is rushing for only 135 yards per game.
My confidence in the ability of the offensive line to open holes for the running backs against the front seven of Vanderbilt is extremely low. The UK O-line has been arguably the worst unit on either side of the ball. They can't pass protect and they can't run block. They have shuffled in entirely new units, they have mixed and matched combinations, all to no avail. So this game is going to rest on Kentucky's ability to pass the ball and on the quarterback's ability to get rid of the ball quickly.
Before the Georgia game, Shannon Dawson stated that he wanted to change the tempo of the offense to help the offensive line block. A more uptempo passing game that allowed the QB to make a quick read and get the ball out of his hands. I saw almost none of last Saturday.
The Wildcat offense has an identity crisis at the moment and the Vanderbilt defense is not the unit that they want to try to find out who they are against. It looks like much-maligned Patrick Towles will start, but any sign of him struggling will usher in the Drew Barker era. Dawson said that they have a plan at QB, and that plan is to utilize both players.
Likely Outcome: I do not have a good feeling about this. I thought that Kentucky's offense would be much better and would be able to put up more points, but that's not the case. They are wildly inconsistent in every facet on offense and cannot get the ball into the end-zone.
If Vanderbilt can cause turnovers, which Kentucky has been more than willing to give up, then the Commodores will win the game. I hope the 'Cats prove me wrong but my confidence in this team is completely shot unless someone can inject some life into the players.
Kentucky Wildcats 10 - Vanderbilt Commodores 13
Please prove me wrong, Wildcats. I want to be wrong.