By TJ Walker on ©October 18th, 2018 @ 10:00pm
After returning from Birmingham we’ve finally had time to digest the nine hours of SEC coaches and players chatting on Tuesday. Here is one takeaway from each team as we head into the 2018-2019 college basketball season, which starts Nov. 6th.
When possible I’ll try to make a team’s takeaway somewhat UK related, but we’ll see how that goes. For a true team breakdown I would suggest reading Aaron Torres’ piece from yesterday.
Former UK recruit, now Crimson Tide sophomore, John Petty recalled his “amazing” trip to Rupp Arena last season:
“What really made it amazing was when we first got (to Rupp) there really wasn’t that many people in there when we were warming up,” Petty said. “So I didn’t think anybody was going to come to the game. We went to the locker room and came back out there were no seats left. I was like ‘Wow!’.
“The game started and they started getting on runs and it got so loud you couldn’t hear anything. And it was like very impressive.
“… I remember we were in the game and then Rupp exploded and next thing you know we were out of the game. That was my first time ever playing at Rupp Arena and it was amazing.”
Alabama was beaten that day and a couple months later smacked by the Cats in the SEC Tournament. Petty won’t return to Rupp Arena this season, but if he opts for a junior season in 2019-2020 we will see him again in Lexington.
Tuesday Frank Martin was the first coach to say UK head coach John Calipari was underrated or didn’t receive enough credit, but he wouldn’t be the last. The Gamecocks’ head man joked that Calipari steals his ideas and gets all the credit, but then genuinely praised Cal:
“Cal doesn’t get the credit he deserves for what he does every year with a brand new team. He does not get the credit he deserves. Now, if you sat Cal in a room by himself and you said to him, ‘You could have your group of freshmen become sophomores,’ he’d said, ‘I’d take that every time. I’ll take it every time.’
Think about the job he does with those kids when they come in as freshmen and who they are at the end of their freshmen year. Imagine keeping them for another year. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Reid Travis, I’ve watched him play. He’s a good player. Adding him is going to be tremendous for those young kids that Kentucky has and their growth, but every time Cal has had experienced guys coming back it’s been a problem for everybody. He’s got experience coming back this year.”
The Aggies lost three great players off last season’s roster and head coach Billy Kennedy is in rebuilding mode. Kennedy followed Martin’s lead and complimented Calipari for what he has to do every year with roster turnover:
“The hardest thing is preparing for who’s going to be on your team next year because you never know now. Guys leave that you don’t expect to leave. It’s a credit to Kentucky and John Calipari for what he’s been able to do to reload and continue to get kids year in and year out. Us losing three guys early was new for us and something that was hard for us to adjust to replace guys and plan for it. So, you go with what you got and you do the best you can with it.”
New head coach Kermit Davis detailed when he coached against John Calipari when Cal was at Memphis and he was at Middle Tennessee. It was when Memphis was No. 1 in 2008 and he said it was one of the top two crowds at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
He also said Calipari was underrated. Join the club, Kermit.
“Cal has done an unbelievable job. I’ve always thought he’s one of the most underrated just basketball coaches in the country and how he reveals his teams all the time.”
However, Davis does NOT remember Cal reaching out to him when he took the Ole Miss job. DRAMA.
The biggest takeaway from Calipari’s presser beside him saying tea leaves 96 times was when he was asked about recruiting players that may be looking for money or impermissible benefits (I wonder who asked that question. I bet he/she was really cool and has a great head of hair).
“We walk. We walk. We just walk. We’re out. I’m not going to deal with it. I think we when we walk in, we make it clear how we do this and what we do and don’t do so it never comes up. Here’s what I would say: if my staff is uncomfortable with what it is, there are other kids. We’re gonna walk.
“I’ll say this to you guys. It’s not always guys asking for something or insinuating something. It could be this: a kid disrespects his mother or grandmother. I walk out immediately because if he’s disrespectful in that way, how is he ever going to respect me or our institution or the people that we all work for? He’s not going to have that kind of respect. If I see a kid that doesn’t even think about making anybody better and my staff will come back and give me all his stats, we walk.
“So, the thing that Kentucky is not for everyone, we do not get everyone that we start recruiting. Some of them, we walk away from. Some of them, they walk away from us and it’s — you’re not promised anything.”
Obviously some opposing fans have poked fun at Cal’s quote, and UK has recruited players mentioned in the FBI scandal, but that doesn’t mean those players or their guardians asked UK for money.
If you’re into rooting for players that seem like good dudes, cheer for former UK recruit Darius Garland. UK already had a few guards committed in the 2018 class and it seemed clear Quade Green and Jemarl Baker would return for sophomore seasons, so Garland wasn’t likely to end up at Kentucky. However, he’s a great player and he made an impression on the media on Wednesday.
He had nice things to say about the Cats. Calipari’s pitch to Garland was he could be the next great player at UK, which obviously didn’t happen:
“His pitch is unbelievable as you can see, as you can see with all the great players he’s had. It really humbled me. I really like Kentucky.”
He later said that Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson were really good guys and great players.
The biggest takeaway from the Bulldogs has nothing to do with Missisippi State, which is strange. But their head coach, Ben (don’t call me Rick Stansbury it’s been six years) Howland, was adamant that Tennessee is the team to beat in the SEC. Not Kentucky.
“They return everybody from the team that won the championship last year in the regular season,” Howland said. “They have everybody back. There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re the team to beat. No question that Kentucky is right there with them and so is Auburn, but when you talk about returning teams that returns everybody that won our conference a year ago. I think they beat Kentucky both times last year if I’m not mistaken, is that correct? How are they not the favorite?”
How conveniently he forgets about the SEC Championship game and the fact UK added more pieces than it lost.
Rick Barnes and John Calipari are boys and have quite the bromance. We’ll have more on that later, but here’s a teaser. Barnes considers Cal a brother and is sick of the negative chatter surrounding his bro:
“John, I think all of the times he’s been accused of things that aren’t true, and I will say that. What I do know about him is that I consider him a brother, I really do.”
Mike Anderson was Mike Anderson. The Arkansas head coach fielded boring questions about Daniel Gafford and being picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC until he was asked about why there’s always a brush-by between him and John Calipari.
Anderson didn’t have much to say:
“Just competitiveness that’s all. It’s just competitiveness.”
May as well just said he doesn’t like Cal, I’m sure his feelings wouldn’t have been hurt.
— Matt Cantrell (@MattfromRich) January 8, 2017
There wasn’t of a Kentucky connection with the Tigers on Wednesday, but it wasn’t a great day for Tigers’ coach Will Wade. Just days before SEC Media Day Wade was caught on wiretap attempting to secure high-profile recruits by offering impermissible benefits. The evidence that was barred from the court room, but the transcript was read. You can read that HERE.
But the fireworks from Media Day were between Wade and a reporter:
“I addressed that in the statement and we’ll move forward and try to talk about the team. I addressed that in the statement.”
The reporter followed up- “That’s not a yes or no. You’re not going to say yes or no?”
“I addressed that in my statement and we’ll move forward and talk about our team,” Wade said.
Wade and LSU should be fine for this season, but it will be interesting to see if the NCAA comes poking around.
Over the summer Cuonzo Martin joked that he didn’t want Reid Travis to end up at Kentucky but on Wednesday he said it wasn’t a joke. When Martin was coaching at California before last season his Golden Bears competed against Travis, so he knows all about the SEC Preseason First Team player.
“I think it was because he was just so physical,” Martin said. “It was true what I said this summer, I didn’t want to play against him again. He’s physical, he’s a smart basketball player, he understands angles, he’s strong.
“… He looks forward to competition and physical play. It’s almost as if he’s playing football sometimes and I say that with all due respect. He plays extremely hard. He’s battled tested. When you’re that age and you’ve played in a lot of big games you see the game differently as opposed to a lot of young talented guys. He’s tough to guard. He knows angles and once he gets his shoulders around you it can be tough to defend him.”
Florida head coach Mike White said he hasn’t studied up on too many teams in the SEC, but when asked about UK he did know the Cats added grad-transfer Reid Travis.
“I’m not overly familair with their entire roster. I know that Coach Cal is always going to field a really good team. They’re always going to play really hard and defend at a high-level, be very discipline, so on-and-so-forth. I know they’re bringing in some really good players. Reid Travis being one. We actually played against Reid last year when he was at Stanford. He’s a heckuva a player.”
Travis finished with 23 points and five rebounds in a blowout loss to the Gators.
In a shocking turn of events Bruce Pearl didn’t sweat through his clothes during SEC Media Day. He did however say UK had a chance to be “special” because of the returning players and unique experience.
As Tom Crean entered the building for his turn at SEC Media Day he ran into NCAA’s Andy Katz.
“You’re leaving before I talk?” Crean asked.
“You need to go earlier in the day!” Katz replied.
“I don’t make the schedule, you’re going to miss out,” Crean said.
“Maybe next year,” Katz said.
Katz didn’t miss out.
Winners! Winners! Winners!
You want ’em and the Free Money podcast has ’em. Matt Jones and Drew Franklin are back for another week of shenanigans as they pick this weekend’s football games. Highlights:
— Tea, crumpets and the Titans with Drew Franklin at KSBar.
— Their favorite moments in North Texas football history.
— Matt’s connection to Rudy.
— Are you Team Matt or Team Drew?
— Phil’s surprising take on UK and Drew’s strong words for Vanderbilt.
— The game you couldn’t pay Matt to bet.
— Drew Franklin’s NFL Fact of the Night.
Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to “Free Money with Matt and Drew” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app. You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play, and streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.
Well, look who it is! It’s our friend Austin MacGinnis. He’s taking a break from kicking footballs and doing podcasts so he could join the Hey Kentucky! gang to talk about UK’s chances against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
No one knows UK football under Mark Stoops better than MacGinnis, so you won’t want to miss his insight on Saturday’s game and UK’s first six games of the season.
The bye week has come and gone with Kentucky resting up and getting ready for another grueling stretch to finish the season. The Wildcats hit a lull on offense in their final six quarters against South Carolina and Texas A&M that suddenly took away the potent running back. With a week off to reassess, Kentucky must find a way to get Benny Snell rolling and to get some explosive runs from Terry Wilson back into the offense.
One wrinkle I believe they were saving was something we saw last season after being drubbed by Mississippi State following the bye week. After only rushing for 200 or more yards once in their first seven games in 2017, UK would reach that number in four of their six final games. Getting there could be contributed to a multitude of factors but perhaps the most important was the use of unconventional unbalanced formations.
On this week’s edition of Inside The Play, we will take a look back to last season to show you how UK can use a specific formation set to get itself a numbers advantage in both the running game and passing game. This formation can lighten the box for the offensive line and Benny Snell to do damage. It can also make for some easier reads and more room to operate for Terry Wilson.
While nearing midfield and facing a second and medium, UK comes out with 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers). As you probably already know by now, this is very common personnel grouping for Kentucky but against Tennessee they mixed it up a bit.
With the ball aligned on the left hashmark, Eddie Gran decides to move all of the receivers to the right side outside of the hashmark. This immediately puts the defense in a bind as they must get out of their base defense. Here Tennessee goes to a nickel look (five defensive backs) to matchup with the wide receivers on the play. Due to the alignment, the box is lightened. If the offensive line does their job, a lane should be there for Benny Snell.
The Wildcats run away from the formation and they give the quarterback the read ability for the end man line up on the right tackle. He doesn’t dive down and that means an automatic handoff to Snell.
With the end occupied with the quarterback, this gives UK five blockers for the remaining five defenders in the box. Right tackle George Asafo-Adjei buries the defensive tackle in a down block and that creates a large running lane. The only one left to beat is the deep safety and Snell gets a step on him for the big gain.
This is a terrific design by Eddie Gran and his offensive staff. This is a set that has a lot of options. You can either run it inside with Snell or the quarterback has the option to pull it if the defensive end crashes. You also see at the bottom of the screen that Josh Ali (#82) is running a bubble screen action. The option to pass it is in there as well. It’s a complete numbers read and could potentially give you an isolation on a go-route if you wanted to go deep.
Later in the game, UK will run the same formation but this time the television camera gives us a better look at the formation. If the defensive end and linebacker can be picked up, Kentucky has an obvious ally to the left sideline for a potential big play if you can make the safety miss.
The defensive end plays this play pretty well but a quick burst by Snell gets him through the line. It was a good read by the running back with both linebackers coming on a run blitz. Snell is one missed tackle away from this becoming a very long touchdown. Once again, George Asafo-Adjei mows down the defensive tackle.
Here is what it looks like on the strong side of the formation after the snap. Kentucky makes the right read due to Tennessee having four defenders accounting for the four receivers.
Once again you have one wideout running a bubble action with the other three receivers getting straight upfield. This is a package you see in a lot of RPO type actions. There are a lot of things Kentucky can do out of this.
Finally, we have to get to the element where Terry Wilson can eventually become a legit weapon. Throughout the season, we have not seen the junior college transfer in many looks where he has the option to keep it around the edge. This could be one of them.
At Tuesday’s media session, quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw stated that the coaching staff must do a better job of putting Terry Wilson in easy situations. In the zone read package above, it creates a simple play for the young quarterback.
Look for wrinkles like this and more moving forward. UK must reestablish its identity in the second half of the season. The Wildcats are a smashmouth, ground and pound offense with a running game that will set up the passing game.
Creative formations like this one are one way to help a quarterback and offensive line who recently found themselves in a funk. You can be a physical football team when you’re not using two tight ends and a fullback. In spread formations you can really punish an opposing defense with runs if you can get them in defensive back loaded sets. They have to respect the pass and if they don’t, toss it out to the bubble for a quick seven-yard gain.
By TJ Walker on ©October 18th, 2018 @ 8:00pm
Since Rick Barnes took over Tennessee in 2015 we hear this story at least twice a season. Barnes and UK head coach John Calipari are boys, and Calipari helped convinced Barnes to take the Tennessee job.
But the two seem like they’re ready to take their relationship to the next level after Wednesday’s SEC Media Day.
Here are the Top Five bromance quotes from the two coaches picked to finish top two in the league:
- I look at Rick like he’s a brother, well an older brother. He’s helped me throughout my career.- Calipari
- John means a lot to me. We’ve grownup in this business together.- Barnes
- He’s a person that I trust. He’s a guy that, I really believe this, if I need something if I called him and asked him for it he wouldn’t ask me why or what, he’d say, ‘You name it, whatever it is.’- Barnes
- John, I think all of the times he’s been accused of things that aren’t true, and I will say that. What I do know about him is that I consider him a brother, I really do.- Barnes
- … You know how good he is. And on top of it? A great guy. Like, a good human being. Tennessee has everything. They have a great coach that can recruit.- Calipari
Seriously, get you a friend like Barnes or Calipari. Both consider the other a brother while competing for a conference championship, and hell, maybe even a national title this season.
Here are their quotes on one another in their entirety:
“Well, you don’t know, I look at Rick like he’s a brother, well an older brother. He’s helped me throughout my career. I remember I was at UMass and my team was the worst defensive team in the country. I sat down with him and I said, ‘Coach, I need some help on this.’ He said, ‘Well, tell me what are you emphasizing?’ So, I tried to tell him what I knew and I tried to say like 25 things, I was just thinking things as I go. He bust out laughing and he says, ‘What are the four things you’re trying to emphasize because all of this doesn’t matter.’
And he got me to focus defensively on a few things and today that still helps. From that conversation my teams defensively have always been pretty good, but when you look at him and what he does and how he brings people together and his demeanor as a coach, you know how good he is. And on top of it? A great guy. Like, a good human being. Tennessee has everything. They have a great coach that can recruit.
When we play them, here’s how close we are. I didn’t know they beat us three times in a row. They beat us three times in a row. I had no idea. I just knew after the game I was sad and he was happy. I didn’t know. Then he says, ‘Yeah, but you beat us in the (SEC) tournament,’ and I say, ‘By the way, that was the most important one just so you know that.’ But he’s a good guy and a good coach.”
“John means a lot to me. We’ve grownup in this business together. I met John back in, I think, 1977 or 1978, University of Pitt with Tim Doughtery. John had transferred from Wilmington back to Clarion. From the time, when you think about it, we both got in the business I am at Providence and he was at UMass. He’s a person that I trust. He’s a guy that, I really believe this, if I need something if I called him and asked him for it he wouldn’t ask me why or what, he’d say, ‘You name it, whatever it is.’
I know he cares a lot about what he’s doing. I know he’s got a great passion for this game. I know he wants to see this game, he wants to protect this game. I’ve been around him and Frank Martin. I know their love for this game. The fact is, they want to help this game.
John, I think all of the times he’s been accused of things that aren’t true, and I will say that. What I do know about him is that I consider him a brother, I really do. He actually, before I took this job, he was the guy that called me and told me, ‘You need to take this job, you need to do it.’ He told me all the right reasons about it, he spoke nothing but great, great things about the University of Tennessee and what he thought it could be. For that, and many reasons, he’ll always be a special coach to me.”
By Drew Franklin on ©October 18th, 2018 @ 7:00pm
Josh Allen is good at football. That, you already know.
But now we know he is good enough to earn one of the 20 quarterfinalist spots for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, given to a defensive player each year. IMPACT is an acronym for: Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, and Tenacity.
Josh Allen, LB, Kentucky
Zach Allen, DL, Boston College
Ben Burr-Kirven, LB, Washington
Te’von Coney, LB, Notre Dame
Deshaun Davis, LB, Auburn
Joe Dineen Jr., LB, Kansas
Jordan Fuller, S, Ohio State
Chase Hansen, LB, Utah
Ben Humphreys, LB, Duke
Jordan Kunaszyk, LB, Cal
Nate Landman, LB, Colorado
Bobby Okereke, LB, Stanford
Ed Oliver, DE, Houston
Adarius Pickett, S, UCLA
Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
Colin Schooler, LB, Arizona
Cameron Smith, LB, USC
Drue Tranquill, LB, Notre Dame
Devin White, LB, LSU
Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
Allen is also on the watch lists for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s top defensive player, and the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker.
To call our world divided has become inadequate. We are utterly estranged, entrenched behind fortified walls of raging partisan spin.
Recently, local columnist Paul Prather wrote an uncharacteristically alarming piece suggesting that we may be past the point of no return with a new civil war perhaps looming on the horizon, not between north and south, but left and right.
The day after Prather’s column, The Wall Street Journal published an essay by Nebraska Senator Benn Sasse, where he likewise wondered if we have reached our breaking point. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which recently became ground zero of our nation’s hatred, Sen. Sasse is uniquely qualified to speak on this issue. I’m a huge admirer of Sen. Sasse, and he has become my go-to example of a Christian politician and public intellectual.
Sasse’s essay (adapted from his newly released book Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal) rightly points out that politics itself is neither the source nor savior of our political divide. Instead he points to the epidemic of loneliness. We are relational beings, which means isolation is unsustainable, and we will inevitably seek out community in some form or fashion.
But what happens when traditional communities built upon faith, family, and friendship suddenly collapse beneath the pressure of our secular technological age? We go searching for new tribes. And for a variety of reasons, politics has become our newest tribe. Politics is no longer something we do, it is now something we need. We have turned to political ideology to satisfy our fervent relational longings, such that our political party has now become the basis of community that we all desperately need, the thing we choose to fellowship around.
As a pastoral aside, this may be the greatest tragedy of modern American Christianity. Our faith convictions no longer transcend our political convictions. In other words, we find more commonality with those of the same political persuasion, regardless of their beliefs (or lack thereof) in God. Likewise, we alienate ourselves from those who share a common faith but disagree with our political persuasion, even viewing them as our enemies. Politics, not theology, tends to be the primary shared belief within congregations these days, which is very tragic.
I fear Sen. Sasse is correct. I fear communities that have historically held us together are disintegrating, and in their absence, we are turning to politics for community. Simply put, there is now no tribe greater than our political tribe.
With one exception.
There is one point where I find disagreement with the senator. He says, “Americans have always had political disagreements with their neighbors, but in the past, political differences could disappear when Friday night ballgames rolled around and the whole town turned out wearing the same colors and cheering for the same team. Today our towns are hollower, and we’re not on the same team anymore.”
I disagree. I believe the exception to our partisan divide is precisely the ballgame. Sports remains the one tribe that still transcends our political tribe.
The KSR phenomenon is a perfect example. How is it possible that Matt Jones, a very outspoken Democrat, has risen to become one of the most popular and influential figures in our deeply Republican Commonwealth? The power of sports. So united are we in our love for the #BBN, that we can even love a stinkin’ liberal like Matt!
Our world needs sports now more than ever. It may very well be America’s final respite from our angry estrangement. Let me be clear, sports fandom is not enough to sustain us, and I have written about that before on KSR. But it’s far better than the toxic vitriol of political tribalism, and right now, we just need something, anything, to bring some healing to our country.
This weekend, hallowed stadiums across our land will once again be filled, not with blue Democrats or red Republicans, but with one color of one team. We will gather, not to vilify one another, but to join one another in sacred traditions that span generations. Together we will chant and cheer, boo and curse, high-five and awkward-hug, and for a few brief hours of sobriety from FOXNEWS and MSNBC, we will forget just how much we hate each other.
There is a lot on the line this gorgeous fall Saturday in the Bluegrass. Bowl eligibility, holding on to first place in the East, and keeping hope alive of perhaps the greatest season in history. But there’s more at stake than even that. We will gather, not just in praise of our beloved wildcats, but in protest of our bitter divide. So let’s pack the stadium and get wild together.
Not just because our team needs it, but because our world needs it.
By Nick Roush on ©October 18th, 2018 @ 6:00pm
As expected, Mark Stoops plans on having a healthy offensive line against Vanderbilt.
While meeting with the media for the final time before UK hosts Vanderbilt, the head coach said center Drake Jackson and left tackle Naasir Watkins are good to go after a successful week of practice.
Watkins will be used to spell E.J. Price. “He’ll be in a back up roll, but he’ll ready to go,” Stoops said.
Watkins missed the Texas A&M game after suffering a mild knee injury against South Carolina. Jackson played sparingly after injuring his groin in College Station. The bye week worked wonders for the Wildcats.
Hear everything else Mark Stoops had to say after Thursday’s walk-though right here.
(Jim Brown/USA Today)The bye week is complete and now the Wildcats will resume action under the lights at Kroger Field for their fifth SEC game of the season. After the much needed reset, Kentucky will look to continue their very strong defensive play and to find some solutions to help an offense that struggled in its last six quarters of football. A win on Saturday will set the stage for, perhaps, the biggest game in program history on the first Saturday in November.
Nuts & Bolts
Derek Mason is in his fifth season as the head man in Nashville and the former Stanford defensive coordinator is still looking for his first winning season. After the 3-4 start to 2018, Mason now sits on a 21-35 career record with an ugly 6-29 mark in SEC play.
After a very strong defensive season that gave Vandy a bowl berth in 2016, this unit has fallen on hard times. In the last 11 SEC games, the Commodores are allowing 41.9 points per game. All of a sudden they cannot stop a nosebleed. After being the primary play-caller for three seasons, Mason went out and hired Jason Tarver to run his unit. Tarver worked with Mason at Stanford during the 2011 season before taking a role in the NFL. The former Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator is responsible for a defense that is allowing 5.8 yards per play. This ranks 10th in the SEC.
On offense, Andy Ludwig enters his fourth season running the offense. The former Wisconsin offensive coordinator has done a very solid job. With the defense slipping, the offense has done its job the last two years by picking up the slack. Ludwig has grown the offense with four-year starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur and Vandy is a legit threat to put points on the board.
Overall, it’s a bit of a weird time for this program. The athletic director just resigned and Vanderbilt desperately needs a new football stadium. Derek Mason received a three-year contract extension following the Independence Bowl berth in 2016, but Vandy hasn’t been able to breakthrough yet. If the ‘Dores can’t make it to the postseason, don’t be surprised if Mason finds himself on the chopping block.
This will be the 91st meeting between these two programs with Kentucky owning a slight 44-42-4 advantage. After losing three in a row to James Franklin beginning in 2011, the Wildcats have won three of the last four meetings. The last time in Lexington, the Wildcats won a 17-10 slugfest behind a strong ground attack led by Jojo Kemp, Benny Snell, and Boom Williams.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is currently a 11.5 point favorite with a total of 46.5. That’s a projected final score of 29-17.5. This will be only the second time that Kentucky is a double-digit SEC favorite under Mark Stoops. In their last 11 SEC games, Vanderbilt is 1-10 against the spread. Kentucky last home cover as a favorite occurred in 2016 against Vanderbilt.
Through seven games, Vanderbilt ranks dead last in the SEC in scoring at 25.4 points per game. But there is a reason for this. The Commodores actually rank seventh in the league with a respectable 6.0 yards per play average. The problem has been finishing drives. Vanderbilt currently ranks last in the SEC in red zone conversions. The offense is only getting scores on 70.4% of red zone trips and touchdowns at a 51.9% rate. The offense has been able to move the ball between the twenties but cannot punch it in when they get close.
Kyle Shurmur is in his fourth year starting behind center and this offense really needs him to play better. The son of New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur is completing only 58.7% of his passes but is averaging a respectable 7.3 yards per attempt. The pro-style quarterback has tossed 51 career touchdown passes and he has to play well for the ‘Dores to compete for wins in the SEC. He can make some big boy throws.
Due to some of their red zone inefficiencies, it is important for this offense to create some big plays. The only real home run hitter in the lineup can be found at the running back position. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is a Nashville native who ended up at Vanderbilt after spending two seasons at Illinois. After not connecting with the new staff once Lovie Smith took over in Champaign, Vaughn made the move back home and the Commodores are happy to have him.
The explosive running back leads the team in rushing with 495 yards and is averaging just under seven yards per carry. He’s not an efficient in between the tackles runner but if he can get outside or hit a seam he has the burst to make a big play happen.
He left the Florida game early due to an injury and that’s when the wheels fell off for Vandy’s upset bid. He’s a player that can make a big play whenever he gets a touch and UK must be able to make solo tackles when he gets in space on Saturday. Once he goes out of the lineup, it’s a significant dropoff to the next back.
At wide receiver, Kalija Lipscomb ranks second in the conference in receptions and he’s proven to be one of the more productive possession receivers in the country. Vanderbilt will use the junior all over the place and he’s by far Kyle Shurmur’s favorite target. But he’s not the only weapon outside.
The Commodores do as good of a job as anyone at utilizing the tight end in the passing game and junior Jared Pinkney is having a great season. The Norcross, Georgia native has 350 yards on 22 grabs with three touchdowns. After being lit up by Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger, Pinkney will present a unique challenge to UK’s pass defense.
On the offensive line, Vanderbilt is very experienced with three senior starters who have played a lot of football. Left tackle Justin Skule is a legit NFL prospect and is a big reason why the ‘Dores rank 11th in sack rate per S&P+. In the ground game, this is a unit that constantly struggles to create lanes in the running game and that does take away from their play-action pass game. Therefore, Vandy likes to use outside zone with Ke’Shawn Vaughn quite a lot to get him on the edge. Vanderbilt will get Kyle Shurmur on the move quite a lot with bootlegs to move the pocket and help out this unit up front.
Since Zach Cunningham was drafted by the Houston Texans its been rough sledding for this defense. Considered one of the brightest defensive minds in the game, Derek Mason’s group has struggled to get stops and that has shown up this year. After another strong start, Vandy has been getting blistered in conference play. For the season, Vandy ranks 11th in scoring defense and 10th in yards per play allowed in the SEC.
This year for Vanderbilt, it starts and ends at the line of scrimmage. The defensive line play in this 3-4 front has been ugly and is putting a ton of pressure on the back eight of the defense. Opposing offensive lines have had their way with Vanderbilt and that has been obvious against top notch competition. Each Power Five school that has faced this defense this year has ran for over 200 yards. That’s not giving you much of a chance when teams are just able to run it down your throat.
This group has only collected 3.5 non-sack tackles for loss. That should tell you that this unit is not making impactful plays against an opponent’s ground game. Unlike some past years, Vandy does not have a star linebacker to help in run support and that creates a dangerous situation. On paper, this is the worst FBS defensive line Kentucky will face this season.
At linebacker, former Kentucky recruit Josh Smith has emerged as a playmaker for Jason Tarver’s defense. The former four-star prospect from Murfeesboro, Tennessee has been very active to this point in the season. The senior leads the team in run stuffs (run stops at or behind the line of scrimmage) and is the only bright spot for this group’s run defense. Inside linebacker Jordan Griffin leads the team in tackles and redshirt freshman Dimitri Moore appears to be a future star. Hybrid linebacker/defensive end Charles Wright led the team in sacks last fall but has been hampered by injuries this season.
In the secondary, senior LaDarius Wiley has played a lot of football for Vanderbilt and he is second on the team in tackles. At corner, junior Joejuan Williams has great size (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) and leads the team in passes defended. If any player has a chance at All-SEC honors it is him.
Special Teams Breakdown
A good chunk of the red zone inefficiency can fall on the kicking game. Ryley Guay is just 8-of-13 on his kicks this season and has been very inconsistent. Just last week he missed a chip shot that was about the distance of an extra point and then hit a 50+ yarder later in the loss to Florida. On each kick, you just do not know what you’re going to get.
After going up against Texas A&M’s Braden Mann, seeing Vandy’s Parker Thome will be a sight for sore eyes but he is no slouch. The senior is averaging over 45 yards per attempt but the chance for returns have been there. In 11 opportunities, opponents are averaging over 11 yards per return. The same can be said on kickoffs when Guay is unable to get the ball into the endzone for a touchback.
In the return department, Trey Ellis is a very effective punt returner when he fields the kicks. Back deep on kickoffs, Jamauri Wakefield is averaging over 21 yards per return. The advantage goes to Kentucky in the third phase.
Keys to Victory
- Whenever they’ve faced top level competition, the Vanderbilt defense has been bad at stopping the run. Even in spirited efforts against Notre Dame and Florida, this group eventually wore down in the second half. With a week off and having a sour taste in their mouth, Kentucky’s offensive line should dominate on Saturday. Benny Snell will have a chance at his second career 200-yard performance.
- Vanderbilt has a very solid passing game but it is a very two-player heavy. Kalija Lipscomb will be targeted early and often and Vanderbilt will do a good job in alignment to get him away from UK’s large, rangy corners. The real key is tight end Jared Pinkney. The Wildcats struggled to check Jace Sternberger in College Station and Pinkney will present a similar challenge. Take him out of the game and it will be a long night for the Vandy offense.
- Kentucky enters this one with the talent advantage and fresh legs. Vandy is off an emotional loss at home to Florida a week after getting beat up in Athens. Therefore, Kentucky must get going early and not let Derek Mason’s team hang around. Get back to your offensive identity of running the football. Don’t turn it over and keep the penalties in check. Do that and Kentucky should gain control very early.
Alabama has Roll Tide. Auburn has War Eagle. Ole Miss has Hotty Toddy. Vanderbilt has Anchor Down.
I really have no idea why and after a quick Google search I couldn’t find a legit reason. Here’ a video of football players explaining the meaning of the anchor the Commodores have at Vanderbilt Stadium. Good luck figuring it out.
By Drew Franklin on ©October 18th, 2018 @ 4:30pm
If there was an award for “Internet Video That Makes Me Break Everything In Sight,” Kentucky Wildcats TV would win it every week.
This week I kicked over a chair, threw a George Foreman Grill against the wall and yelled at my sweet, old neighbor… all because this UK-Vanderbilt hype video.
I’m afraid what might happen when they release one when Kentucky is 7-1 going into the Georgia game.