After playing all of the heavy hitters in the first eight games of the season, the schedule lightens up for Kentucky in November and that could be a good sign. Despite not much past success late in the season, this year UK will be young in quite a few spots and that youth will turn into experience by the end of the season. Kentucky will have a great shot to finish strong in 2019.
After their final bye week of the season, Kentucky will host Tennessee on November 9th for the 115th all-time meeting. Jeremy Pruitt appears to be in the middle of a long rebuild, but it is imperative that he get the Vols to the postseason this year.
Tennessee decided to make some staff changes following last year and the biggest move was getting Jim Chaney to leave Athens. The longtime offensive coordinator called plays at Tennessee from 2009-2012 and he will be making $1.5 million to help this offense take the next step. After a rough first season, Jarrett Guarantano took some positive steps but he’s not the dual-threat he was labled coming out of high school. The New Jersey native is strictly a pocket passer and the Vols must get the ground game going to help out their young quarterback.
UT was dead last in rushing yards per game in the SEC last season and that’s a problem. The Vols had some major offensive line issues and getting Trey Smith back in the lineup will help a lot after missing last season due to blood clots. Tennessee may be starting two five-star true freshmen at tackle so the woes could conceivably continue. The running back position is still a work in progress while there are some nice weapons at receiver.
Jim Chaney isn’t the only new play-caller in town by the way. Jeremy Pruitt continued the staff shakeup on the other side of the ball and is giving up primary defensive play-calling duties to former UK assistant Derrick Ansley. Ansley, after a two-year run at Alabama, worked for the Oakland Raiders last season before returning to college ball. It appears he has more tools to play with seven starters returning.
Darrell Taylor has the potential to become the best pass rusher in the SEC this season after recording eight sacks in 2019. Inside linebacker Daniel Bituli is tackle machine and nose tackle Emmit Gooden was a pleasant surprise last season. Nigel Warrior is a dependable safety and Baylen Buchanan has star potential at nickel. The Vols also have a few blue-chip recruits that will be thrown into the mix right away.
Derek Mason is entering year five in Nashville and after making two postseason appearance, the ‘Dores will be look to go to consecutive bowl games for only the second time in program history this fall. Mason came to Vandy with an advanced defensive background, but it will be the offense that leads the way in 2019.
Gone is Kyle Shurmur, his 43 starts, and nearly every passing record in program history. That’s a big hole to fill and then Vandy lost four-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig on top of that. Vanderbilt quarterbacks coach Gerry Gdowski will be calling plays for the first time at the FBS level, but he has some fun tools to play with.
Illinois transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn emerged into a star last season for Vanderbilt after rushing for 1,244 yards on 7.9 yards per attempt in addition to being a weapon in the passing game. Vaughn scored 14 touchdowns last season and is one of the most explosive backs in college football. He’s one hell of a starting piece.
Out wide, slot receiver Kalija Lipscomb is back for his senior season after leading the SEC targets on his way to recording 87 grabs with a catch rate of 72.5%. At tight end, Jared Pinkney is also a senior who posted a robust 15.5 yards per catch last season. Whether it’s grad transfer Riley Neal or Deuce Wallace at quarterback, Vanderbilt will have a lot of options on offense.
Derek Mason finally gave up defensive play-calling duties last season by bringing NFL assistant Jason Tarver to the West End to run the defense last season. The results weren’t great as the ‘Dores ranked 114th in success rate and 13th in the SEC in yards per play allowed (6.14). Vanderbilt kept explosive plays in check, but was unable to stop offenses from consistently moving the chains.
This year Vanderbilt returns just five starters on defense and must replace four of their top six tacklers. Derek Mason and Jason Tarver have their work cut out for them.
At inside linebacker, sophomore Dimitri Moore recorded 84 tackles last season and has the potential to develop into an All-SEC type player. The defensive line returns plenty of experience with starters Drew Birchmeier, Dayo Odeyingbo, and Cameron Tidd combining to collect 19.5 run stuffs last season. They should be a strength. Vandy will be leaning heavily on junior college transfer Dontye Carriere-Williams to play well at corner while they rebuild the secondary.
UT Martin Skyhawks
Back in 2014, Jason Simpson brought his UT Martin team to Lexington to kickoff the season and there Kentucky thumped the Skyhawks to begin a 5-1 start. This year the Skyhawks will return to town coming off their worst season under Simpson in his 12-year tenure.
The strength of the two units last season for the Skyhawks was definitely on the offensive end and this year UT Martin has some intriguing pieces returning. Quarterback Winn Dresser completed 65.8 percent of his passes last season in the dink-and-dunk offense. Outside, wide receiver Jaylon Moore averaged over 15 yards per reception on 52 grabs.
Last season, the Skyhawks gave up over 34 points per game with the two FBS teams on the schedule each scoring over 50 points. The pass defense was a huge weakness with foes averaging over eight yards per attempt and completing 60.8 percent of their passes.
The Scott Satterfield era is off and running in Louisville to help clean up the mess left by Bobby Petrino. Despite winning 34 games in five seasons, the bottom fell out last year with the Cardinals becoming one of the worst Power Five football teams in 2019. The floor will be low in the first season for Satterfield after spending the majority of his life at Appalachian State.
Jawon Pass was a huge recruiting win for UofL in the class of 2016 and it seemed like the Cards had a perfect succession plan once Lamar Jackson bolted for the NFL. Pass was a four-star prospect with offers from a ton of schools and expectations were high for the guy nicknamed Puma. Much like the rest of the team last year, Pass bombed on the field.
The pocket passer completed just 54 percent of his attempts, had an ugly sack rate of 9.1 percent, threw 12 interceptions to just eight touchdowns while putting up just 6.5 yards per attempt. In a small sample size, he was a productive runner but other than that it was a lot of ugly football. For Louisville to have a chance to be competitive this season they need the former blue-chipper to develop and play better in the new system.
At App State, Satterfield’s offense could be very run heavy and in every FBS year under his watch they produced a 1,000-yard rusher. At UofL, he inherits some backs with potential. Hassan Hall appears to be the favorite to be the top guy this season and the sophomore ran for over 300 yards as a true freshman last season. On the outside, Seth Dawkins, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Tutu Atwell is a nice trio to have at receiver.
On the defensive end, Louisville returns nine starters but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The Cardinals allowed 44.1 points per game last season and that ranked 128th nationally. Opponents put up nearly seven yards per snap and seven teams scored at least 50 points including the last five games of the season. There’s only one way to go from here.
Scott Satterfield brought along defensive coordinator Bryan Brown from App State despite just one year of play calling experience. Under Brown, the Cards will be running a 3-4 defense that relies a lot more on speed than size to make plays.
Louisville loses top tackler Dee Smith, but both C.J. Avery and Dorian Etheridge have show some playmaking ability at inside linebacker. In the secondary, former blue-chipper Russ Yeast hopes to play a bigger role at safety while Power Five transfers Rodjay Burns, Marlon Character, and Boosie Whitlow need to play well. Defensive line play is a huge concern and figures to be the biggest weakness on the team.
On paper, there are wins to be gobbled up in November. If the season started today, UK would be a favorite for each of their last four games and the opportunity for a strong finish to the season will be there. Historically, UK has struggled in the month of November going just 6-18 with just one SEC win during the Stoops era. That’s an ugly number but the Wildcats will have a great shot at a winning record this season.
Louisville is in the first year of a long rebuild while Kentucky appears to be a step ahead of both Tennessee and Vanderbilt’s programs at the moment. The Wildcats should get another FCS win and will have a chance to put a statement on a great season or help save a rocky campaign when 2019 ends.