Kentucky is coming off a bye week and is seeking its third victory of the season. Vanderbilt played its best game on Saturday against Mississippi State but failed to leave Starkville with a victory. The Commodores are 0-5 and have battled COVID-19 issues throughout the season. The Wildcats can get back into the winning column if they accomplish the following goals:
Find a passing game. I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but the Cats have to find a way to stretch the field and produce more explosive plays. UK has seven pass completions that have surpassed 20 yards and just two that went past 30. Averaging 5.3 yards per attempt, Eddie Gran’s unit has to threaten the Vandy safeties and prevent its corners from sitting on routes. How is that remedied? Chunk pass plays or downfield completions. VU is ranked 13th in the SEC by allowing 279 pass yards per game. It’s also given up 13 passing touchdowns. That’s awfully tempting for opposing offensive coordinators to scheme up an aerial attack.
Feed #24. RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. is leading the team with 75 carries, 413 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Vandy’s rush defense is suspect which could lead to another 100-yard performance from the sophomore.
Dominate the turnover margin. Kentucky is currently sitting at +4 for the season. This number is fascinating since the Cats have only produced one forced fumble. Vanderbilt is last in the conference with a -8. UK rank 13th in the SEC after losing seven fumbles. UK must hold onto the football. This is non-negotiable.
Block #10. All-SEC defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo is the Commodores’ most threatening defender. He currently has 21 tackles and 3.5 QB sacks. The 6’6, 276-pound senior from Irving, Texas has enjoyed a productive career and will be matched up against Landon Young and Darian Kinnard.
SUCCESSFULLY even out the Run/Pass ratio. The Wildcats average 39 run plays per game to go along with 22 pass attempts. The key word in the goal is “SUCCESSFULLY.” UK will always be a run-first offense and should exceed the 200-yard mark. However, completing more passes will open up run lanes for Chris Rodriguez and company.
Bend but don’t break. Vanderbilt QB Ken Seals has produced impressive numbers for a true freshman (110/164, 1066-yards, 8 INT, 6 TD). However, the Commodores have only managed 12 Red Zone appearances in which it has converted 50%. That number is last in the SEC. Of its 12 attempts, VU has only scored on five occasions. Translation: lots of yards between the 30s, but lacks production when the field shrinks deep into opponent’s territory. Kentucky leads the SEC in Red Zone Defense after allowing opponents to score on 63.6% of their trips beyond the 20-yard line. Furthermore, the Cats have limited opponents to four scores out of their last twelve attempts.
Influence Ken Seals. Seals is a true freshman quarterback. He’s playing at an extremely high level for a rookie and is coming off his best performance of the season against Mississippi State: 31/45, 3 INT, 1 TD, 336 yards. Kentucky has the number one ranked Total, Pass, and Red Zone defense in the SEC. However, it has only produced 8 QB sacks which ranks the Cats 12th in the conference. UK will need to pressure, distract, harass, and bother the rookie who has thrown 8 interceptions this season. In other words, increase Havoc (QB sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, etc.).
Tackle #21. Much like QB Ken Seals, all-purpose running back Keyon Henry-Brooks is coming off his career best performance against Mississippi State. The 6’1 sophomore racked up 212 total yards (115-rush, 97-receiving). Henry-Brooks is a true pass catching threat and must be accounted for at all times. He’s equally effective as a runner.
Take that #1 ranking for a test ride. Kentucky has the top-ranked pass defense in the SEC. It is allowing 212 yards through the air per contest. Vandy has a trio of pass catchers that will present a challenge. WR Cam Johnson is a former 4-star prospect and has 33 catches for the season. 6’4 WR Abdur-Rahman Amir has 11 grabs and averages 15 yards per catch. 6’4 Chris Peirce had 6 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown vs. Mississippi State. VU is averaging 218 pass yards per game and has a quarterback that is not afraid to take chances.
Duffy be Duffy. All-American punter Max Duffy will need to own the field position game by forcing Vandy to start deep in their own territory. By doing this, the Cats will force the true freshman quarterback to drive the length of the field to score.
Be the best FG team. Vanderbilt is 2/6 on field goals this season. Kicker Matt Ruffolo will need to continue his recent accuracy trend and be the best kicker in the game.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Kentucky is a 17-point favorite. The Cats should win on Saturday. However, Vanderbilt will bring a creative passing attack to Kroger Field which could play right into the hands of the league’s top pass defense. The Commodores are allowing 160 rush yards per game. Opponents are averaging 5.3 yards per carry. This game sets up to be an offensive “get-right” game. But, games aren’t played on paper. I think this one is closer than most think.