The Kentucky Wildcats (4-5, 2-5) must win two of their final three games of the season to go bowling. Saturday, they will have a chance to get one of those victories when they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-7, 1-5) in Nashville.
Can the Wildcats close out conference play with a victory? Here’s everything you need to know to get ready for Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
Bowling Ball At Running Back
When asked to describe Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn this week, Kash Daniel said he’s a “bowling ball.” Clearly, Vaughn has the Wildcats’ respect and attention as he should. The senior has run for 818 yards this season with six rushing touchdowns while adding a carer high 248 receiving yards and a touchdown. Last season an injury held Vaughn out of action against Kentucky, and since he is a transfer from Illinois, he has yet to face the Wildcats in his carer. He will look to make one rude introduction Saturday as he will be the key to Vanderbilt’s upset hopes.
After losing several key pieces to their defense from a year ago, the Commodores have struggled to rebound this season. Vanderbilt ranks 119th in the country and worst in the SEC in total defense, has recorded just 13 sacks which is tied for the least in the conference and have defended an SEC low 27 passes. With Kentucky’s playmaking ability using Lynn Bowden under center, it might be a long day for the Vandy defense.
Always Fighting The Cats
Despite their struggles, Vanderbilt always seems to bring their a-game when they take on the Wildcats. Kentucky leads the all-time series by just three games (45-42-4) and despite their success of late, have had some close calls with the Commodores in recent years. Last season Vanderbilt came to Lexington to take on the No. 14 ranked Wildcats and held them to just 14 points as Kentucky escaped with a 14-7 victory. In 2016 a bowl-bound Kentucky team that upset Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville only defeated Vanderbilt by a touchdown at home, and in 2015, Vanderbilt upset Kentucky in Nashville, which all but ended the Wildcats bowl hopes. While Kentucky may be the better team on paper, they can count on the Commodores, giving them all they can handle this weekend.
Same Ole Question
Kentucky’s set to play their 10th game of the season Saturday, yet we are still asking the same question: who should play quarterback? With Terry Wilson out for the season and Sawyer Smith banged up, Lynn Bowden has moved under center the past four games and has led the Wildcats to a 2-2 record. He figures to get the nod again this weekend, but the question is, will we see Smith at all? Smith has checked in the past two weeks but has only gotten about five snaps combined. However, Mark Stoops has voiced in concern about the offense being one dimensional, which may just lead him to having Smith check-in and throw the ball a little bit. Or maybe it won’t? We won’t know until Saturday.
First Half Defense On Point
Kentucky’s defense has been surprisingly stellar this season, but perhaps what is still flying under the radar is how good they have been in the first half of games of late. Since the Arkansas game’ Kentucky has allowed just one first-half touchdown and have only allowed a total of 16 first-half points with 13 of those coming against Arkansas. Their ability to get off to fast starts has twice resulted in Kentucky taking an early lead. If they can hold down Vanderbilt early this week, they may just seal victory as Kentucky’s offense should be able to put up plenty of points against a not so good Vandy defense.
Whether you’re a fan of the term “must-win game” or not this Saturday may just be one for Kentucky. With a victory, the Cats would all but clinch a bowl bid for a fourth straight season as they’ll play host to Tennessee-Martin of the FCS next week. However, with a loss, Kentucky would need to beat both U-T Martin and Louisville, who has had a tremendous bounce-back season under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield. Thus if Kentucky loses to Vanderbilt, they could very well be starting a 5-7 season in the face as with a win, they could afford a loss to Louisville and still go bowling. That makes Saturday as close to must-win as it gets.
There’s no doubt Kentucky will be the better team to take the field Saturday, but the question is, will they play like the better team? With their backs getting close to the wall, expect the Wildcats to come out focused and to find the scoreboard plenty against Vanderbilt’s poor defense. While the Commodores may make things interesting, expect the Wildcats to pull away and pick up their 5th win of the season.
KENTUCKY 30, Vanderbilt 17