After struggling with a nagging hamstring injury all season long, WR Dorian Baker is finally set to return this afternoon against Vanderbilt.
Coaches have been optimistic all week long about Baker’s return, saying he’s been looking great, throwing with quarterbacks after practice to get some extra reps in, and yesterday claimed the junior was “good to go” for Saturday. Now, Baker has confirmed his availability against the Commodores.
He posted this on Twitter yesterday afternoon:
Back in action tomorrow ! ðŸ˜Š
– Dorian Baker (@DBaker2_) October 7, 2016
With the pass offense struggling as of late, it sure is nice to get an extra weapon in there for Stephen Johnson to have at his disposal.
But what exactly can we expect from the star wide out in his first game of the season at 100%?
Well, maybe not a whole lot.
Vanderbilt’s defensive success has been extremely sporadic this year, giving up 38 points to Georgia Tech, 30 to WKU, and 24 to Middle Tennessee, but only 13 against both South Carolina and Florida. They’re giving up roughly 410 yards of offense a game (250 passing, 160 rushing), but only gave up 236 yards last week against Florida, about half of the 564 yards UK gave up against the Gators back on September 10th. With Boom Williams and Benny Snell thriving this season, and Stephen Johnson’s arm not being relied on heavily the past few weeks, UK will likely follow a similar run-dominant game plan to the USC game, meaning Dorian Baker may have to wait another week or two for his breakout opportunity.
As far as UK’s passing attempts go, the short, quick game may be the best method of attack against a group of talented Vandy defenders. As Freddie has touched on, Vandy’s All-SEC LB Zach Cunningham is a stud and will almost certainly make a significant impact on tomorrow’s game, as he leads the SEC in tackles with 52, along with 8.5 tackles for loss. Cunningham has been, and will continue to be a star, but Ja’karri Thomas, Oren Banks, and Torren McGaster are names to keep a close eye on, as well. Jeff Badet out of the slot and CJ Conrad opening up the middle of the field may be points of emphasis for Eddie Gran, and deep shots for the outside guys (aka Baker) may be limited.
That being said, Baker’s offensive ability is certainly something Vandy’s defense needs to account for.
Though the numerous drops in his career stick out like a sore thumb, Baker actually finished last season as Kentucky’s leading receiver, catching 56 balls for 612 yards and three touchdowns. He’s a physical specimen with NFL potential, and certainly has the ability to dominate every time the ball is thrown his way. Vandy has struggled getting to the quarterback on defense, so with some time in the pocket, Stephen Johnson may have a few opportunities to find Baker and help knock some rust off on a home run ball or two. As physical as Baker is at receiver, he may be able to create some major separation on some of Vandy’s smaller corners and make a #SCTopTen play like this one:
– Rosey (@AdamRosenbaum19) September 27, 2015
Will Baker’s presence force Gran’s hand to throw the ball a little bit more? We’ll see, but I’d expect to see another Boom/Benny/Jojo show this afternoon in a run-dominant effort.
Here’s to hoping he gets his feet wet, makes a couple big grabs, and helps the team get back to .500. Glad to have you back, DB.