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Vanderbilt Commodores vs UK Wildcats Football: 5 keys, odds, expert picks, predictions

Cats enter Week 11 as slight underdogs as they face the Dores.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Cats are, what some would say, a “disappointing” 6-3 on the season. They are looking to extend that record to 7-3 with a win over Vanderbilt today.

This game is going to be very even in a lot of ways… Kentucky has a very good offense and a consistent quarterback who likes to win. Vanderbilt has only won four games this season and has a 4-5 record, but they have one of the best running backs in the SEC in Ralph Webb. Vanderbilt is currently a 2-point favorite at home, but Kentucky has a 50.1 chance to beat the Commodores according to ESPN.

There will be several factors that are going to come into play for the Cats to bring a conference W back to the Commonwealth. If the Cats are going to win, here is the 5 keys to doing so:

Don’t let Ralph Webb beat you.

The 5’10 senior running back is having another great season this year. Webb has run the ball 139 times for 543 yards this season. Webb has also scored six touchdowns for the Commodores this season. Webb only needs 38 yards in the game to pass Emmitt Smith in all-time rushing yards in the SEC.

Last week against Western Kentucky Webb had 104 yards on the ground and one touchdown and WKU has a good rush defense. Last season Webb rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown against the Cats. Webb has been very good this season, being the go-to man in the redzone for the Commodores. If the Cats are going to win, the defensive line must clog up the holes to stop Webb from breaking loose.

Protect Stephen Johnson.

Vanderbilt has the same number of sacks this season as UK, being 23. But, the thing is, 14 of those sacks came against non-power 5 conferences. That says to me two things, they can get to the quarterback, but they can’t do it against top-tier talent.

Stephen Johnson has been hit a lot in the past two games, and he is still nursing that left shoulder that was injured against Tennessee. At least it’s his non-throwing shoulder, right? Well, not exactly. Last weekend against Ole Miss you could tell he was running a bit timid and the coaching staff was a little more hesitant to call run plays for Stephen Johnson, I am guessing to protect that bad shoulder.

Benny Snell must produce

Vanderbilt’s rush defense is ranked 115th in the country after 9 games. Vanderbilt gives up 211 yards-per-game. Now, the past two games, Benny Snell has been able to get 170+ yards, and both defenses were in the bottom of the rankings, just like Vandy is.

The sophomore running back has had another amazing season, racking up 897 yards through the first 9 games this season. Snell has also scored 12 touchdowns this season. Snell is looking to be the first Kentucky player to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Benny Snell runs mean and that’s exactly what Kentucky will need this weekend to get the win in Nashville. If the offensive line does its job and Snell does Snell things, the cats should be able to get 225+ rushing yards.

Put pressure on Kyle Shurmur.

The 6’4 junior quarterback is having an outstanding season, and what most would consider an amazing season. Shurmur has completed 55.9 percent of his passes and he has threw for 1,884 yards through the first 9 games of the season. Shurmur has also passed for an incredible 20 touchdowns on the season and has only threw 3 interceptions.

Josh Allen and Denzil Ware are going to have to step up big time this weekend. The two edge rushers have combined for 11.5 sacks on the season as well as 18 tackles for loss. The combo also has Josh Paschal and Pringle rushing from the defensive line. If the defensive line can manage to put pressure on Shurmur, I honestly could not see Vanderbilt winning.

Grant McKinniss has to be consistent punting the ball.

Senior transfer punter, Matt Panton has indefinitely been suspended for the game this weekend, as he was arrested for Public Intoxication last weekend after the loss to Ole Miss.

Some people would be like hmm, I don’t see the big deal? Well, the big deal is the Cats’ backup is Grant McKinniss, who was VERY inconsistent last season. Now, the word is, McKinniss is hitting the ball just as well as Panton in practice, but last season he didn’t punt the ball bad, he just would punt the ball 60 yards and then 20 yards the very next punt. If Kentucky wants to win field position they need to get past the 45-yard line very series or make sure McKinniss is ready to go.

I truly believe the cats can win Saturday, and on paper, Kentucky is really more talented than Vandy. But here is my prediction:

Kentucky will come out and start slow. I believe they will start the game by giving up 10 straight points to Vandy and then score 17 unanswered thanks to Benny Snell running the ball. Snell will have 180 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Conrad will also have one touchdown and 3 catches for at least 40 yards. Johnson will be OK. He will probably pass for around 60 percent and two touchdowns. Finally, Kentucky will hold Vandy offense to less than 350 yards and McKinniss will average 40 yards-per-punt.

Final Score: Kentucky 31 Vandy 20

Now, this is just my opinion, what are some of the major experts saying?

Kyle Tucker – SEC Country

“I think Kentucky feels under fire, doubted and perhaps on the edge of collapse with No. 1 UGA and the reigning Heisman winner to come. So my hunch is the Cats play like a team that, yes even at 6-3, has its back to the wall. Kentucky 27, Vanderbilt 24.”

Joe Mussatto – SEC Country

“It’s hard to believe Kentucky hasn’t won at Vanderbilt since 2009, but I think that home winning streak against the Wildcats continues Saturday. Yes, Vanderbilt is 0-5 in the SEC, but those losses have come against Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina. Kentucky, which is 3-3 in the SEC and beat South Carolina, would likely be 1-4 had it played Vanderbilt’s conference slate. Running back Ralph Webb’s numbers are down from last year, but Shurmur could give a shaky Kentucky secondary problems through the air. Vanderbilt 30, Kentucky 23.”

Pete Fiutak – collegefootballnews.com

“It’s hard to believe Kentucky hasn’t won at Vanderbilt since 2009, but I think that home winning streak against the Wildcats continues Saturday. Yes, Vanderbilt is 0-5 in the SEC, but those losses have come against Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina. Kentucky, which is 3-3 in the SEC and beat South Carolina, would likely be 1-4 had it played Vanderbilt’s conference slate. Running back Ralph Webb’s numbers are down from last year, but Shurmur could give a shaky Kentucky secondary problems through the air. Vanderbilt 30, Kentucky 23.”

This is the expert predictions, let us know your predictions in the comments!