The Vanderbilt Commodores will play perhaps the most pivotal game of the season on Saturday when they take on the Kentucky Wildcats, with bowl eligibility still in reach.
Vanderbilt is looking for some revenge as well, having lost to Kentucky up in Lexington last season. To get a better look at the Wildcats, we went behind enemy lines and spoke with Chris Leach, sports editor of the Kentucky Kernel.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @chrisleachKYK and The Kernel on Twitter @kykernel.
Vanderbilt Hustler: The Wildcats have already clinched bowl eligibility, but they’ve had quite the up-and-down season, winning games against South Carolina but losing tough ones to Florida, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Has inconsistency been a common theme this season?
Chris Leach: You could say Kentucky has played inconsistently, but they’ve consistently played down or up to the level of their competition. All their games, excluding the Mississippi State loss, have been decided by 11 points or less, with six of those games being decided by at least a touchdown. It seems like no matter who Kentucky plays, they’ll play to their opponents’ level of competition, as that’s been the theme all year.
VH: Where do Stephen Johnson and Benny Snell Jr. rank in the SEC as a QB-RB duo?
CL: I’d say those two rank towards the top. Snell leads the SEC in rushing yards, and while Johnson might not put up the most dazzling stats, he is the leader on the offense that has mostly been efficient all season. Johnson missed most of the third quarter against Tennessee, and that time he was out, the offense was a mess. The balance of Johnson’s ability to spread around the ball, and Snell’s ability to pop off big rushes is what keeps the offense going.
VH: Kentucky has given up more than 20 points in each of the last six weeks. What has gone wrong on defense, and what can they do to right the ship against a Vanderbilt offense that has been potent all season?
CL: Kentucky’s rush defense has faltered during that span, and in order for them to right the ship, I’d say the rushing defense needs to improve. In those six games, opponents’ rushers have at least gained over 186 yards in four of those games. Kentucky started off their first three games undefeated while holding opponents to no more than 62 rushing yards, so I think if Kentucky wants to raise their chances of winning, they’ve got to stop the run. However, that’s harder said than done when matched up against Ralph Webb.
VH: The Wildcats have not won a game in Nashville since 2009. Are there unique challenges to playing at Vanderbilt Stadium?
CL: I’ve actually never been to Vanderbilt Stadium, maybe the smaller capacity allows fans to get into the opponents’ heads more since its a smaller space. I just think playing SEC road games are hard in general, and the same thing applies to Vanderbilt Stadium. Kentucky’s defense has said they prefer playing on the road because it eliminates distractions, but at the same time, not having a normal routine and a fan base behind you in the stadium can affect a team I believe.
VH: What is your prediction for the game and why?
CL: Despite Vanderbilt being SEC-winless, I don’t think they’re all that bad a team. Vanderbilt’s five SEC losses have come against respectable opponents, and I’m sure you guys haven’t forgotten about that Kansas State victory back in middle September. I haven’t either, and I think Vanderbilt will be able to get the win in a low-scoring, close game in which Kentucky isn’t able to make enough plays at the end to get the victory.