Kentucky and Vanderbilt played one of the ugliest football games that I’ve witnessed in person a year ago. That’s quite a feat if you think about it; I’ve seen and participated in some dreadful football games in my lifetime. Kentucky and Mark Stoops have to win on Saturday. Derek Mason and his Vanderbilt team have to win on Saturday. Something’s got to give.
Let’s take a look:
Running Game/Defense/Special Teams
Vanderbilt won’t shock and awe. When it wins, it does so the old fashioned way by leaning on a veteran defense, physical running game, and solid special teams play. Mason and company nearly pulled off an upset against Florida but the Gators failed to cooperate and won the Music City Shootout 13-6.
Linebacker Zach Cunningham is the latest in a long list of elite middle linebackers that the Cats will face this season. Cunningham is heady, persistent, hard-hitting, and also the SEC’s leading tackler. He’ll consistently test and contest the UK offensive line. Star (Hybrid LB/DB) Oren Burks is the consummate student athlete and was a Cat killer in Nashville a year ago. Burks’ pick-6 was a dagger too far for the struggling Cats who lost the football game and a bowl game in that auspicious October afternoon.
Vandy features an experienced defense with a startling lineup comprised of 7 juniors, 3 seniors, and 1 sophomore. At times it may be beaten in one-on-one situations due to superior athletic ability but rarely will it break down structurally or self-inflict errors.
Ralph Webb is the SEC’s leading rusher: 118, 582, 5 TDs. Vanderbilt’s game-plan is no secret; Webb will carry the football at least 25 times on Saturday.
Vanderbilt Depth Chart
How UK Beats Vanderbilt
— Offensive ball security must be priority one on Saturday. Multiple turnovers against Vandy will lead to another humiliating loss. The Cats are dead last in the SEC’s turnover margin category by fumbling 12 times, losing 8.
— Consistent perimeter run game early will wear down the sizable and confrontational Vanderbilt defensive line. When watching the game on Saturday you may notice an unusual defensive formation. Derek Mason employs 2 down, defensive linemen with 2 standup defensive end/outside linebacker types along the line of scrimmage. The 2 defensive linemen are not always aligned at the same spot and at times will show an overload or unbalanced appearance to one side of the center.
— Power run game late has shown to be effective against the Commodores. This has occurred after opposing offenses have spread the ‘Dore D all over the field and utilized multiple formations which forced the front seven to chase plays.
— Slowing Ralph Webb will be a demanding task. Webb stresses opposing defense’s discipline and fortitude as he will consistently test Kentucky’s run-lane responsibilities. He will be the focus of Vanderbilt’s offensive game plan. Webb’s strengths are vision, cut-backs, and his innate ability to make initial defenders miss tackles.
— Play action pass awareness will have to remain a defensive concentration. This especially applies over the middle of the field where QB Kyle Shurmur will attack in order to challenge opposing safeties and linebackers. This is highly concerning. UK’s zone pass defense weaknesses lie between the hashes. Expect multiple tight ends to be targeted.
— Smart linebacker play with disciplined pursuit angles will be obligatory on Saturday. Crafty RB Ralph Webb is the league’s best at cutting the football back against the grain. UK’s linebackers are improved in this area but have at times been vulnerable against cut-back runs in the zone-stretch scheme. For Kentucky to win, Courtney Love will have to play the best game of his career.
— Sustained special team effort and execution will suffice. Wildcat special teams haven’t been discussed by the media for a reason. Coach Matt House’s unit has shown obvious improvement and new-found consistency.
If my count is right, Saturday will be the 4th edition of Mark Stoops’ most important game. An opening game loss vs. Southern Miss has painted the Wildcats into a bowl eligibility corner. No sugarcoating this one; Kentucky has to win on Saturday.