The Kentucky Wildcats (5-1) are ranked 14th & climbing in the AP Top-25 as they host the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday night at Kroger Field.
As 11.5-point favorites to beat the Commodores, ESPN is giving the Wildcats a 84.9% chance to win. Despite a gritty overtime loss two weeks ago at Texas A&M, many experts view Kentucky as a legitimate threat in the SEC East. Here are five aspects Kentucky must control to avoid an upset on Saturday.
1. Win the Line of Scrimmage
Against Texas A&M, Kentucky was to just 178 yards of offense. It seemed as if every time they ran a play, an Aggie had penetrated their backfield as soon as the ball was snapped.
With Drake Jackson banged up and Nassir Watkins out two weeks ago, it was foreign territory for a group that had dominated through five games.
However, though Landon Young remains out for the season, both Jackson & Watkins are back healthy & EJ Price should has had two weeks to tweak his craft as well.
On the other side of the ball, Kentucky’s defense has been sound all season and that shouldn’t change despite facing a talented Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
2. Ride Benny Snell
The junior running back is off to the races in his 2018 campaign. After six games, Snell has managed 699 yards on 128 carries.
Despite their reputation in years-past for having a well-rounded defense, Vanderbilt has the 103rd-ranked rush defense in the country. This, along with time to prepare, could lead to yet another quality performance from Kentucky’s backfield.
3. Win Time of Possession
Ranked 11th in the country for total defense, Kentucky has been outstanding. However, the offense didn’t provide any favors at Texas A&M. In fact, the Wildcats’ defense was on the field for 35 minutes compared to the Aggies’ for 25 Minutes.
Kentucky managed two touchdowns without an offensive play in the Aggies’ territory. Though that was against a Jimbo Fisher-led defense, the Wildcats will need both Snell & quarterback Terry Wilson to play much more efficiently.
4. Win the turnover battle.
Vanderbilt is tied for 60th in interceptions but is tied 10th in fumble recoveries. The ball seems to have bounced their way this season, which will require emphasis on ball security by the Wildcats.
Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur has thrown five interceptions through seven games, while Kentucky safety Darius West has an interception in each of his last two outings. Wilson has thrown the same amount of interceptions, leading to whoever wins the turnover battle here will have a vast advantage on Saturday night.
5. Dominate Field Position
Kentucky’s ability to flip the field this season has been unquestioned. Max Duffy’s ability to precisely punt the ball, for example, kept Kentucky in the game two weeks ago at College Station.
Duffy is averaging just over 48 yards per punt and has 11 punts that landed inside the 20-yard line. His heroics have also spelled the defense at times, adding pressure on the opposing offense that leads to more punts by the opposition.
The Wildcats are just beginning the second half of their season, yet need just one more win to reach bowl status. In what will be a bounceback game for both, expect Snell & Wilson to play a much higher quality of football.
A Kentucky defense that has wreaked havoc continues their dominant season & forces three turnovers from Shurmur.