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It’s football time in the Bluegrass!!! Coming off of a bye week and amid all the uncertainty that ran through the Southeastern Conference this week due to the Coronavirus I for one am just happy to have a game today. The Wildcats have the winless Vanderbilt Commodores coming to Kroger Field for a Noon kickoff today on the SEC Network.
Vanderbilt is coming off of a 24-17 defeat to Mississippi State down in Starkville. The ‘Dores are now 0-5 on the season and have been outscored 177-64. On paper, this should be an excellent get right opportunity for Kentucky before heading into the two week gauntlet of trips to Tuscaloosa and Gainesville. However, there are still major offensive question marks surrounding the ‘Cats that must be worked out to take care of business this afternoon.
Talented Freshman Quarterback
True Freshman Ken Seals (#8) ended up winning the Vanderbilt Quarterback battle that didn’t feature a single player that was on the roster just one season ago. The former three-star recruit is completing over two-thirds of his passes and has thrown for over 300 yards in back to back games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Seals is averaging 213 yards per game through the air and has thrown six touchdowns to eight interceptions.
Seals has some solid arm talent to throw the deep ball and is continuing to improve week to week, but Kentucky features the SEC’s top rated passing defense that should be able to keep Vandy at bay through the air. We will touch on it more in a minute, but Vanderbilt really struggles to find scoring opportunities. If our defense can negate explosive plays through the air it will be nearly impossible for Seals and company to create enough points to win this game.
Dual Threat Running Back
Redshirt Freshman Keyon Henry-Brooks (#21) has been a bright spot in this brutal season for the Commodores. Henry-Brooks is a staple of the Vandy offense as he rushes for over 80 yards per game while also leading all SEC Running Backs in pass receptions. Henry-Brooks is averaging over 4.5 yards per carry and over 10 yards per reception out of the backfield. He has reeled in 20 receptions for 207 yards including a long of 48 yards.
There aren’t a whole lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball for Vandy, but Henry-Brooks offers both consistency and big ability. It will be important to have him covered out of the backfield and not allow them to dink and dunk the ball down the field via check downs to Henry-Brooks. If Kentucky successfully keeps the talented Running Back at or below his season averages it will be a win for the defensive unit.
Overall Offensive Woes
Just look at the graphic, the numbers are not good. There isn’t really an area where Vanderbilt is good or dangerous, they simply try to survive offensively. Vandy has scored just 64 points in five games, good for just shy of 13 per game. That is a tough recipe for success.
Part of the issue for the Commodores offensively has been their very high turnover rate. They have lost five fumbles and thrown the ball away via interceptions nine times through just five games. For a defense with 11 interceptions of their own, Kentucky’s secondary should be licking their lips for this matchup.
Additionally, Vandy has been truly terrible in the Red Zone. Even more than that, they actually don’t even make it there very often. Over the course of 20 quarters of football they have only been inside the 20-yard line 24 times and scored just 2.29 points on those opportunities. That is simply not going to get it done. Seven of those red zone trips came last week against Mississippi State where they scored just 17 points.
Defensively, Kentucky’s goal really should be to pitch a shutout in this one. Turnover opportunities should present themselves as well, but regardless this is a team that should stay behind the chains and be forced off the field in a hurry.
Plenty of Holes in the Defense
On defense, Vanderbilt relies on an aggressive scheme to try and get you behind the chains. While the high-risk, high-reward style does reap rewards from time to time, it also allows for a lot of big plays on the ground. Opposing Running Backs are creating explosive plays on over 22% of their rushes against the Vandy defense. Overall, the ‘Dores are allowing over five yards per rush and have allowed 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Through the air things aren’t all that much better. Opponents are averaging 279 passing yards a game and the defense has produced just one interception this season. Defensive End Dayo Odeyingbo (#10) is their best havoc creator with 3.5 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries to his name, but outside of him there isn’t a ton of talent.
This defense will provide a perfect opportunity to work out some offensive struggles that Kentucky has faced and hopefully build some confidence heading into the next few games to finish off the season. Whoever ends up starting at QB for the ‘Cats should have plenty of chances to make things happen both through the air and on the ground.
Yes, the Special Teams are Bad Too
We’ve already established that on the relatively rare occasions that Vanderbilt does make it into the Red Zone they aren’t putting many points on the board. A big reason for that lack of success has been a shaky kicking game. Kicker Pierson Cooke has missed two field goals from inside 30 yards this season and is just 1-3 from 40 yards or further. Their inability to just get three points from the Red Zone has cost them several times this season.
The punting game hasn’t been good either costing the Commodores valuable field position. Their 40.32 yards per punt ranks last in the SEC and near the bottom of college football in general.
This really is an opportunity for Kentucky to dominate in all three facets of the game. If that can happen then there is some optimism despite having to still play both Alabama and Florida on the road. However, any struggles today will be put under a microscope and it could be a long final few weeks of the 2020 season.