After a much-needed bye week, the Kentucky Wildcats (2-4) will be back in action Saturday when they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (0-5) at Kroger Field.
Kentucky will take the field with heavy hearts Saturday as they mourn the loss of offensive line coach John Schlarman who died at the age of 45 Thursday after a two-year battle with cancer.
Both teams’ will be looking to snap losing streaks Saturday as the Wildcats have dropped two straight losing to Missouri and Georgia while Vanderbilt has started the season 0-5 and are on a six-game losing skid dating back to last season where they lost their season finale to Tennessee.
UK has won four straight over the Commodores and now hold a 46-42-4 all-time series lead over their long time rivals. UK has not lost to Vanderbilt in Lexington since 2012 and is 5-2 against the Dores’ in the Mark Stoops era.
Can the Cats make it five straight over Vanderbilt? Here’s everything to know about Saturday’s matchup.
How hot is Derek Mason’s seat?
While it’s tough to judge any coach for having a rough 2020 season amid a pandemic, Derek Mason’s job security is still very much in danger entering Vanderbilt’s final five games.
In six and a half seasons at Vanderbilt, Mason is just 27-52 with a 10-43 conference record. While the Dores’ have reached two bowl games under Mason (2016 & 2018), they have not finished above .500 as they went 6-7 after losing the 2016 Independence Bowl and 2018 Texas Bowl.
If Vanderbilt finishes 0-10, Mason would fall to 10-48 in SEC play, which may just be enough for the school to make a change at head coach. If Dores’ are able to win a game or two, that may be enough to give him another chance in 2021.
An improving offense
As poorly as Vanderbilt has played this season, their offense took a big step forward last week against Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs defense is among the best in the SEC, but that did not stop the Dores’ from generating an impressive 478 yards of offense. Freshman quarterback Ken Seals threw for 336 yards and a touchdown while running back Keyon-Henry Brooks ran for 117 yards and a touchdown.
While the offense moved the ball downfield, they were unable to take a big enough step to get a win as they scored just 17 points in large part due to three Seals interceptions and a lost fumble while Amir Abdur-Rahman also lost a fumble. Thus, the Dores’ are still having trouble holding onto the ball but are showing signs of improvement, which should make UK take notice.
While Vanderbilt’s offense has improved throughout the season, their defense has struggled. The Dores’ have allowed at least 40 points in three of their five games thus far this season, including giving up 54 to Ole Miss at home on Oct. 31.
Last week, Vandy held Mississippi State to 24 points, but for the Bulldogs, it was the first time they scored more than 14 points since Week 1 when they scored 44 against LSU.
The Commodores defense ranks 81st in the nation in total defense as they’re allowing 440 yards per game, rank 61st against the run allowing 160.6 yards per game and 98th against the pass, allowing 279.4 yards per game. Outside of success from Dayo Odeyingbo, who has 3.5 sacks, there isn’t much to fear when trying to score on the Vandy defense.
Honoring John Schlarman
The Wildcats will hope the Football field provides a place of peace Saturday as they get set to take the field with heavy hearts as they honor late offensive line coach John Schlarman who died Thursday morning.
Despite a two-year fight with cholangiocarcinoma and a global pandemic, Schlarman stayed with the Wildcats coaching his final game Oct. 20 when Kentucky ended a 17-game losing streak at Neyland Stadium against Tennessee.
There are announcements on exactly how UK will honor Schlarman Saturday but expect them to play hard for the beloved coach and play with heavy hearts Saturday afternoon.
Terry and Quinton’s return
Wilson missed Kentucky’s last game against Georgia with a wrist injury but is not guaranteed to be in the starting lineup Saturday as Mark Stoops did not announce whether Wilson or Joey Gatewood would start under center this weekend.
Bohanna suffered a knee injury in UK’s Week 4 win over Tennessee and was out of the lineup for the teams’ losses to Missouri and Georgia. So far this season he has made five total tackles, a tackle for loss, pass deflection and forced a fumble.
Whose calling plays?
There’s a lot of questions to be asked about the Kentucky offense: Who will start at quarterback? Will the passing game improve? Will a reliable wide receiver emerge outside of Josh Ali? But this week, the Wildcats are stuck looking for an answer to an unwanted question: who will call plays?
Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran did not speak to the media Tuesday just a day after Mark Stoops announced three offensive coaches were in COVID-19 protocol. He remained hopeful Gran would be in the sideline calling plays Saturday but admitted there is a contingency plan in place incase Gran is unable to perform his duties.
If Gran is out Saturday, expect quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw to call plays as he did speak with the media via Zoom Tuesday from the UK Football training complex.
Photo: UK Athletics
Despite Vanderbilt’s struggles, Kentucky will need to improve offensively and play to their peak potential to snap their losing streak Saturday. With Schlarman on their minds, don’t expect UK to lay down and lose to a winless opponent.