Like two pariahs sharing shelter in a storm, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have been quiet companions in →
Football Season Coverage
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©8:00 pm
Like two pariahs sharing shelter in a storm, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have been quiet companions in the SEC East cellar for the better part of the conference’s modern history, sustaining on the occasional upset and the relief of basketball season right around the corner. However, in the past four years, Vandy pulled a Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight Rises” and climbed out of the well, leaving Kentucky all alone at the bottom. Watching Vandy storm to three straight bowls brought out some mixed feelings in the BBN: some of us were happy for our former fellow cellar dweller, some of us resentful of their success, and all of us just a little bit jealous. Now, with Vanderbilt once again rebuilding after James Franklin’s exit for Happy Valley and Mark Stoops making noise in his second season, Kentucky and Vanderbilt seem to be at a crossroads again, but this time, the Cats are the ones climbing.
To appreciate this critical juncture in the series, let’s examine the relationship between the two programs over the past five years…
2010: Robbie Caldwell
2011-2013: James Franklin
2014 – present: Derek Mason
2010-2012: Joker Phillips
2013 – present: Mark Stoops
In 2010, both programs had new head coaches, albeit under very different circumstances. Robbie Caldwell was named Vandy’s interim head coach after Bobby Johnson suddenly announced his retirement with two months until the season opener, while Joker Phillips took over for Rich Brooks two years after being named his successor. At the time, Kentucky was coming off a 7-6 season while Vandy was trying to recover from another disappointing year. The roles would soon reverse after Caldwell resigned and Vandy gambled on James Franklin, who did the unthinkable and brought immediate success to the Vandy program. Meanwhile, UK struggled under Joker Phillips, and after three seasons, cut ties and hired Mark Stoops. At the end of last year, Franklin left Vandy to Penn State, taking many of his players and recruits with him, and the ‘Dores hired Derek Mason, who has had a shaky start so far this season.
My, how quickly things changed once James Franklin entered the scene. UK’s 40-0 loss to Vandy in 2012 with a smattering of fans in the stands was the low point of the Joker Phillips Era, and sealed his fate. Stoops and the Cats were competitive in Nashville last season, but bettors in Vegas feel so confident the Cats will turn the tide this year they’ve made them a 16.5-point favorite.
It’s amazing how the two programs have mirrored each other in performance over the past five years. If the ESPN Football Power Index projections hold out and UK gets to 6 wins and Vandy 3 (I’ll be a friend and round up), this chart will practically be a mirror image.
Recruiting (Rivals Recruiting Class Rankings by year)
The cornerstone of any college football program is recruiting. Both Franklin and Stoops are strong recruiters, and put together comparable classes. Franklin’s 2012 & 2013 classes were ranked 29th and 19th in the country, similar to Stoops’ 2013 & 2014 classes, which were ranked 29th and 17th in the country by Rivals. Derek Mason didn’t have much of a chance once Franklin left, and it will be interesting to see what he does with the 2015 class. Currently, they’re ranked 67th in the country. UK is ranked 23rd.
Average Attendance (% of home stadium capacity)
Both Kentucky and Vanderbilt football fans have been through a lot, so much so that getting back on the football wagon has proved difficult at times. However, after Franklin showed Vandy fans that football success was a legit possibility and not just a fluke, they filled up little Vanderbilt Stadium each Saturday. At Kentucky, Joker Phillips inherited a happy fan base that quickly turned sour, and only started coming back once Mark Stoops reinvigorated the program. Hopefully, UK fans will #PackCommonwealth on Saturday to send that attendance average soaring and get those cautiously optimistic fans back in the stands.
Damien Harris- Bye week.
Zy’Aire Hughes- Completed 9 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown, and caught 9 passes for 67 yards in a 52-49 win over Southaven (MS).
Eli Brown- 7 rushes for 23 yards and 7 tackles in a 61-21 loss to Hopkinsville.
Jordan Jones- Helped Cardinal Mooney beat St. Vincent-St. Mary 35-10 on Friday.
CJ Conrad- Had two catches for 78 yards, a one-yard touchdown run, and a punt return for a touchdown in a 54-12 win over Clearview (OH).
Alex Stump- Had 11 receptions for 109 yards in a 21-14 loss to Elder (OH). He picked up an offer from his ‘dream school’ Ohio State over the weekend as well, so it should be interesting to watch and see if he ends up staying a Wildcat.
Keion Wakefield- Bye week.
Quinton Baker- 13 rushes for 77 yards in a 41-13 loss to Ironton (OH).
Jabari Greenwood- Plays against Good Counsel tonight (Olney, MD).
Darius Fullwood- Plays against Jabari Greenwood and Gonzaga tonight (Olney, MD).
Ryan Davis- Plays tonight at 7:30 pm at Gibbs (FL).
Drake Jackson- Bye week.
1. The Cats need to keep the momentum rolling. Despite another conference loss, the Florida game validated the players’ “we can beat anybody” belief. Unfortunately they didn’t have the chance to prove themselves during the Bye Week, but they did address fundamental areas in need of improvement.
“We’d like to continue to build on some of the good things we’ve been doing and try to clean up some of the mistakes,” Stoops said. This team’s mantra has been energy. Today’s practice will reflect how well the Cats managed their time off this weekend.
2. Somehow Kentucky is not the younger underdog. When was the last time anyone in the BBN said that? With 31 freshmen playing, Vanderbilt is the youngest team in the nation. The key to keeping the young guys down, is starting fast and stepping on the accelerator. Stoops’ quote was extremely long, but the gist is, “we need to do what teams did to us last year.”
When it comes to being favored, it doesn’t matter when you haven’t won a conference game since 2011. “Don’t pay much attention to it. We need to be hungry.”
3. Vandy is rebuilding, but getting better. After poo-pooing during their first three games, the Dores finally looked respectable against South Carolina. Their biggest threat is in the kicking game. Last week Darrius Sims had two return touchdowns, a facet of the game Stoops said the Cats needed to improve on following the Florida game.
Stoops is familiar with Vandy Coach Derek Mason’s Stanford background from his time at Arizona. “(They’re) very fundamentally sound, very tough at the core of who they are, and they do a lot of creative things with big sets,” Stoops said of their multiple tight end formations. “They create some real problems in the run and the pass from big sets. It’s really new now, not too many people are doing it.”
4. It wasn’t a win on the field, but it’s helping recruiting. Stoops’ staff spent the off weekend on the recruiting trail. It was only one weekend, but he can already tell a difference in the way UK is viewed in that specific atmosphere.
“I do think it’s important for us to show progress. I’ve never hid from that. I don’t define that all the time by wins and losses. I know how important wins are, but I think there was a positive vibe out there that recruits know we’re getting better. They can see it.”
5. “He’ll be fine.” There were a lot of mental hiccups in Gainseville. Jordan Swindle had three false start penalties, Ryan Timmons dropped a critical pass, and Fred Tiller had an interception hit him in the numbers. When asked if he had any serious concerns, Stoops never flinched, “He’ll be fine.”
In Tiller’s case, he knows what it feels like to drop six points. For defensive backs, it’s a moment that everyone has, and one they’ll never forget. “I remember one — I bobbled it about three times. I had an easy touchdown and I batted it to myself three or four times. Maybe I just wasn’t fast enough to run it in.”
6. Keeping the kids’ heads on straight. The sport of football has been filled with more off the field scandal than excitement on the field. Stoops’ staff has not been blind to the social situations. After numerous preseason meetings and refreshers last week, Stoops is pleased with how his players have conducted themselves on campus.
“We could have those kinds of meetings everyday,” Stoops said. “Knock on wood, our players have been very good. We’re not perfect, but I think they’ve been really trying to embrace the leadership and do the right things. I think you’re starting to see that carryover from off the field actions, to on the field.”
Veteran offensive lineman Zach West has been out with a mysterious nerve injury in his neck but it sounds like he may return to football sooner than later. Today during his Monday press conference, Mark Stoops said West is getting better and will participate in some form in today’s practice. There is a chance he and wide receiver Jeff Badet play this Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Wide receiver Alexander Montgomery is the only player who still needs a little more time to recover from injury, although he is “close” to coming back. Stoops said Montgomery’s injured leg has healed but he needs to strengthen it before making his return.
Other than that, the Wildcats are healthy entering the Vanderbilt game. Gotta love that.
Mark Stoops is in the Wildcat Den for his weekly Kentucky football press conference today. Tune in via WatchESPN to hear his comments regarding the week off and the upcoming SEC home opener with Vanderbilt in Commonwealth Stadium.
If you can’t access WatchESPN or are too busy at work to sneak away, Nick Roush will be by with a rundown of Stoops comments later this afternoon and our friends at Kentucky Wildcats TV will have the entire video online for your viewing pleasure.
Kentucky’s October 4th home contest with South Carolina is set for 7:30 pm on the SEC Network. The Saturday morning SEC Nation gameday show will be broadcast live from outside Commonwealth Stadium that morning at 10:00 am, plus it’s opening weekend of Keeneland.
Gamblers love the Cats this weekend at home against Vanderbilt despite UK losing three straight to the Commodores and going winless in the SEC in the last two seasons. Kentucky opened as a 10.5 point favorite and the line has moved all the way up to -15.5 in several Las Vegas sports books. That’s quite a swing after a day and a half or so on the board.
Remember, UK scored a grand total of 14 points in its last three meetings with Vandy while giving up 100, so the Cats are now favored by more than they’ve scored in three years. This is a must-win game and a cover will have Big Blue Nation looking toward South Carolina with confidence.
Kentucky football’s Monday morning depth chart is out and there are no surprises on either side of the ball. UK looks to be in good health after the bye week and ready to take on the Commodores.
85 Steven Borden, 6-3, 246, Sr-1L
80 Ronnie Shields, 6-5, 254, Sr-3L
77 Darrian Miller, 6-5, 292, Sr-3L
68 Nick Haynes, 6-5, 319, Fr-RS
74 Cole Mosier, 6-6, 348, Fr-RS
75 Zach West, 6-4, 318, Jr-2L
72 Jon Toth, 6-5, 301, So-1L
57 Zach Myers, 6-3, 287, So-Sq
69 Ramsey Meyers, 6-5, 300, Fr-RS
64 Max Godby, 6-4, 298, Sr-1L
70 Jordan Swindle, 6-7, 306, Jr-2L
73 Kyle Meadows, 6-5, 294, Fr-RS
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
6 Blake Bone, 6-5, 198, Fr-HS
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L
82 T.V. Williams, 5-10, 160, Fr-HS
8 Javess Blue, 6-0, 191, Sr-1L or 2 Dorian Baker, 6-3, 197, Fr-HS
81 Rashad Cunningham, 6-4, 225, Jr-1L
87 Joey Herrick, 6-1, 197, Jr-1L
19 Garrett Johnson, 5-11, 176, Fr-HS
14 Patrick Towles, 6-5, 238, So-1L
12 Reese Phillips, 6-2, 218, Fr-RS or 7 Drew Barker, 6-3, 216, Fr-HS
39 D.J. Warren, 6-0, 251, Sr-3L
10 Jeff Witthuhn, 6-3, 246, So-Sq
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr or 3 Jojo Kemp, 5-10, 194, So-1L
59 Kelly Mason, 6-3, 223, Jr-2L
13 Jared Leet, 6-3, 196, Jr-2L
99 Austin MacGinnis, 5-10, 168, Fr-RS
9 Landon Foster, 6-1, 198, Jr-2L
18 Stanley “Boom” Williams, 5-9, 200, Fr-HS
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr or 11 J.D. Harmon, 6-2, 201, So-1L
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L
94 Za’Darius Smith, 6-6, 263, Sr-1L
91 Farrington Huguenin, 6-4, 275, Jr-2L
90 Melvin Lewis, 6-4, 320, Jr-JC
69 Matt Elam, 6-7, 375, Fr-HS
50 Mike Douglas, 6-4, 288, Sr-3L
67 Cory “C.J.” Johnson, 6-3, 299, Jr-JC or 96 Regie Meant, 6-4, 286, Fr-RS
6 Jason Hatcher, 6-3, 242, So-1L
47 Jabari Johnson, 6-1, 276, Jr-1L
2 Alvin “Bud” Dupree, 6-4, 264, Sr-3L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L
45 Josh Forrest, 6-3, 236, Jr-2L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L
22 Khalid Henderson, 6-1, 228, Jr-2L
33 Ryan Flannigan, 6-2, 225, Jr-JC
24 Blake McClain, 5-11, 194, So-1L
29 Kendall Randolph, 6-0, 168, Fr-HS
3 Fred Tiller, 6-0, 170, Jr-2L
11 J.D. Harmon, 6-2, 201, So-1L
5 Ashely Lowery, 6-1, 220, Sr-3L
15 Marcus McWilson, 6-0, 210, So-1L
1 A.J. Stamps, 6-0, 199, Jr-JC
28 Eric Dixon, 5-11, 193, Sr-3L
16 Cody Quinn, 5-10, 172, Jr-2L
21 Nate Willis, 6-0, 168, Sr-1L
By Bryan the Intern on ©9:00 am
Every Monday I will detail with little commentary how the offense generated yards after each game. I will break it down into 1st down, 2nd and long, 2nd and short, 3rd and long, and 3rd and short situations and tell you how many passes and runs were called in each situation, along with the success or failure of those situations. And then you have the opportunity to discuss how you thought the coaches did with the playcalling. Of course, there was no game this weekend so this gives us a good chance to talk in generalities about the first 3 games. Certainly a ton of positives can be examined but there still is progress to be made.
Run: 49 rushes for 230 yards (4.7 ypc), 3 TD
Pass: 30-46, 527 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 2 sacks for -11 yards
2ND AND LONG (6 yards or more)
Run: 19 rushes for 156 yards (8.2 ypc), 1 TD
Pass: 13-28, 182 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 sacks for -18 yards
2ND AND SHORT (5 yards or less)
Run: 16 rushes for 122 yards (7.6 ypc), 2 TD
Pass: 4-5, 6 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack for -12 yards
3RD AND LONG (6 yards or more)
Run: 3 rushes for 11 yards (3.7 ypc)
Pass: 14-24, 245 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
3RD AND SHORT (5 yards or less)
Run: 16 rushes for 80 yards (5.0 ypc), 1 TD
Pass: 2-5, 9 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 2 sacks for -13 yards
So, what stands out to you from these stats? Have you been satisfied with Neal Brown’s playcalling at this point in the season, and if not, what would like to see more out of the offense? My quick analysis:
-UK has been very good on 1st down. They have been balanced and successful with both the run and pass. This helps so much to give yourself reasonable 2nd and 3rd downs. As Rich Brooks always highlighted, you have to get the negative yardage plays out of there.
-Love the YPC on 3rd and short because that translates to UK converting those more often than not, which they have. Past teams have struggled in all scenarios on 3rd down but this team has been much better.
-The one area I would like to see a little more variety is 2nd and short. That is often a situation where you can attempt to be aggressive but UK has generally stuck to the run in those scenarios, playing it safe.
The folks in Vegas have released their NCAAF lines for the week, and Kentucky has opened as a 10.5 point favorite over Vanderbilt. For what it’s worth, 5Dimes Sportsbook (one of the biggest on the internet) currently has UK as a -13.5 point favorite.
For a team that hasn’t won an SEC game in two years, some might worry that opening a conference game as a double-digit favorite will put some added pressure on UK. However, coming from someone who has watched the Commodores in person several times – there really shouldn’t be much to worry about. Go Cats.
EDIT: The line has now moved up to -14.
With 8 teams in the top 25 of today’s AP poll, it’s safe to say that the media likes the SEC. However, after yesterday’s action, ESPN’s Football Power Index is even more in love with the conference. What is the FPI? Good question. Here’s how ESPN describes it:
“The Football Power Index (FPI) is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season. FPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule. Ratings and projections update daily.”
Yay, computers! Here are the latest FPI rankings (I’ve also listed each team’s position in the AP poll for comparison):
1. Alabama (3)
2. Texas AM (6)
3. Auburn (5)
4. Georgia (12)
5. Florida State (1)
6. Oklahoma (4)
7. Oregon (2)
8. Ole Miss (10)
9. Baylor (7)
10. UCLA (11)
11. Mississippi St.(14)
12. LSU (17)
13. USC (18)
14. Notre Dame (8)
15. Stanford (16)
16. Clemson (unranked)
17. Ohio State (22)
18. BYU (20)
19. Wisconsin (19)
20. Arkansas (unranked)
21. Florida (unranked)
22. S. Carolina (13)
23. Arizona St. (15)
24. Michigan St. (9)
25. Utah (unranked)
As you can see, the computers are very reverent of the SEC. Not only are there 10 teams in the top 25, the FPI also says that the four best teams in the country are in the conference. It’s certainly a small sample size; we’ll see if it holds as the schools continue to beat up on each other in league play.
In case you were wondering, Kentucky currently comes in at 45th with a projected 6-6 record. I’ll take it.
The SEC is coming in strong this week for the AP Top 25. The SEC came in with eight teams, which is good for the conference, but bad for Kentucky. Pac-12 came in with five teams and the Big Ten and Big 12 had 4. the ACC only had one along with the AAC, after Louisville dropped out.
I thought Matt was just joking when he talked about this Sting window on the show a couple weeks ago, but apparently not. This has been seen around town and fans are taking pictures all over the place.
— Alex Green (@DifferentBreedP) September 4, 2014
Would you put this on your car?
— Josh Edwards (@JEdwar247) September 20, 2014
As I stated earlier, bye week is usually a boring, disappointing time for fans. Watching a college football Saturday isn’t the same knowing that the ‘Cats haven’t played or will later in the day. However for coaches, especially with the staff that Mark Stoops has created, this bye week is a chance to get out and see some recruits that they normally wouldn’t have the time to check out.
Tonight, Mark Stoops is spending his bye week Saturday in Ohio (shocking development) watching the #1 ranked high school in the nation, St. Edward (Lakewood, OH) face off against perennial Ohio and national power, Cincinnati Elder. Kentucky already has a commitment from 4-Star WR Alex Stump of St. Edward, and are also in on twins Andrew and David Dowell of St. Edward, both 4-star players at RB and Safety respectively. Clearly having a good connection to a team ranked #1 in the nation, that usually sends 4 or more players to Division 1 football every season is a fantastic thing for Kentucky football.
With UK on a bye this weekend, there isn’t a whole lot of football related news to cover as a lot of the players are using this weekend to return to their hometowns and relax for a couple days. However, even in bye weeks, former Kentucky players are still taking former Kentucky opponents to the woodshed.
UT Martin took a 59-14 beating in Commonwealth less than a month ago, and today they returned home to face Eastern Kentucky in the teams first OVC game of the season and got burned by former UK running back Dy’Shawn Mobley who transferred to EKU after last season. Mobley carried the ball 11 times for the Colonels, gaining 183 yards and scoring 3 times in the Colonels’ 49-24 win. EKU moves to 4-0 on the season, it’s best start since 1992, and Dy’Shawn Mobley has placed himself in the conversation for OVC Offensive POY after coming on strong at the end of last season for Kentucky.
It’s always nice to see former ‘Cats doing well in other environments, especially (selfishly) at EKU, a school that about 75% of my family graduated from. Go Cats and Go Colonels!