After starting out the season with three consecutive wins, Vanderbilt lost 5 games in a row to difficult SEC opponents. The Commodores picked up their first win in over a month against Western Kentucky last Saturday. A 4-5 record looks poor, but if you consider the teams Vandy has played that record doesn’t look so bad.
Here are three players that will make a difference in today’s game:
Over the past few years, when talking about Vandy Football running back Ralph Webb is usually the first topic of discussion. Not this year. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur has been outstanding in his junior season.
In nine games Shurmur has thrown for 1,884 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just 3 interceptions while completing 55 percent of his passes. That’s a huge improvement from last year when Shurmur threw just 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The primary reason for his success comes from improved offensive line play. The Commodores have given up just 11 sacks this year, compared to 32 in 2016.
The Kentucky defensive front must make Shurmur uncomfortable in the pocket. If he has time to sit back there he will dissect Kentucky’s secondary just like Jordan Ta’amu did last week.
It has been somewhat of a down year for Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher, Ralph Webb. The senior has rushed for 543 yards on 139 carries and 6 touchdowns, good for an average of 3.9 yards per carry. After struggling mightily against Alabama, Georgia and Florida, Webb responded by rushing for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns on 46 carries against Ole Miss and Western Kentucky.
The Kentucky defense started out strong against the run early in the season, but over the past few weeks that has not been the case. It’s going to take all 11 members of the defense to successfully slow down Webb. Gang-tackling will be a point of emphasis for Matt House’s defense in today’s game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Vandy has not produced liked they have in recent years, but the Commodores are still coached extremely well by Derek Mason and his staff. Charles Wright, a junior outside linebacker, leads the SEC in sacks with nine. Wright started off the season on fire with 6.5 sacks in 3 games. He has since settled down, but still presents a major challenge for Kentucky’s offensive tackles.
It’s important that the offensive line creates running lanes for Benny Snell and Sihiem King, but at some point Stephen Johnson is going to have to make some plays with his arm. When that time comes, the offensive line must control Wright and the rest of Vanderbilt’s pass rushers long enough for Johnson to set his feet and make the right reads.
Vanderbilt presents challenges on both sides of the ball but if the Cats execute properly this should be a fun game for fans to watch. Missed opportunities have plagued Kentucky this season. Hopefully today is not one of them.