This Saturday at high noon, Kentucky will look to stumble into their first SEC win of the 2012 season when they take on James Franklin’s Vanderbilt Commodores. Joker Phillips’ Wildcats who find themselves sitting at 1-8 on the season, look to avenge last season’s humiliating 38-8 loss in Nashville. While history implies that this should be an easy home victory for the Wildcats that’s far from the case. No, history won’t have too much to say about this one as Vanderbilt comes into Commonwealth Stadium with a team that could be called “significantly better” for lack of a better term. This wide gap in skill isn’t just attributed to the obvious nosedive in Kentucky’s performance either; James Franklin has done an absolutely remarkable job in turning around a program that many thought couldn’t be transformed because of their academic limitations. Regardless, Vanderbilt, yes the same Vanderbilt you’re thinking of, has multiple playmakers on both sides of the ball that are certain to give Kentucky trouble come the weekend.
First and foremost, the name that you’ll most likely be hearing early and often come Saturday is Jordan Rodgers. Jordan Rodgers is the Quarterback for the ‘Dores and happens to be the brother of Green Bay Packers Quarterback, Aaron Rodgers (take a shot every time that little trinket is mentioned in the broadcast and you’ll likely have 2 or 3 shots, kind of a lame drinking game actually). Despite only throwing 5 touchdowns in eight games, he is actually having a solid season statistically speaking. Rodgers has completed 58.9% of his 180 attempts and is averaging a very respectable 8.1 yards per passing attempt. Hypothetically speaking, if he were to be a team he would rank 23rd in pass yards per attempt, tied with Louisiana Tech and West Virginia. Part of the reason for this passing success is Junior wide-out, Jordan Matthews, who has scampered for 3 touchdowns while compiling 775 total receiving yards. More bad news for Kentucky’s defense is that Running Back, Zac Stacey, has returned for his Senior season. Stacy, as you may remember, nearly dragged every Wildcat defender into the endzone last year for one of his three touchdowns on the day. He hasn’t slowed this season either as he has gathered 683 yards rushing (5.2 ypa), 101 yards receiving, and 5 total touchdowns. Given this, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Kentucky could stop the Commodore offense given our porous defense.
The Vanderbilt offense has been the story the 2012 season, but the defense is quietly putting up some solid performances in the nation’s premier football conference. While the Commodore defense is much more a committee than a handful of stars there are several standouts whose name you will be hearing Saturday if you feel like tuning into the contest. Safety, Kenny Ladler, is perhaps VU’s most known defensive player. In his seven games he has compiled 51 tackles, 1 sack, and has an interception return for 17 yards. The Vandy line is similar to their entire defense in the “by committee” aspect but a few players stand out like DE Walker May and DT Rob Lohr. The pair have combined for 34 tackles and 2 sacks. Because of the pressure these two constantly apply to opposing defenses, Vanderbilt is among the SEC’s best in pass defense, only allowing 5.6 yards per passing attempt (4th in the SEC). The chaos that these two help create has also helped Vanderbilt become one of the SEC’s best in terms of tackles for loss and sacks, ranking 5th and 7th respectively. Overall the Dores’ defense may not contain the stars that are typical of the SEC, but they are very well disciplined and effective in their roles.
The time to find Kentucky’s first SEC win is rapidly dwindling and it would take quite the titanic effort to pull that feat off on Saturday. There have been some rumblings around the world of Kentucky sports that this particular match-up is a “winnable” game for the Wildcats, but it’s my belief that this feeling is largely due to historical biases felt towards the Vanderbilt program. According to my rating system Vanderbilt has a 73% chance to win this game which is the 20th highest probability of the 56 games taking place this weekend. It’s a sad state of affairs when it would be considered a large upset to beat Vanderbilt, but that’s the scenario we find ourselves in currently.