The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Behind enemy lines: Kentucky

Bosley Jarrett

Kentucky Kernel sports editor Anthony Crawford joined the Vanderbilt Hustler sports editor Robbie Weinstein to discuss the state of the Wildcats ahead of Saturday’s game.

Robbie Weinstein: It looks like Kentucky has rebounded slightly from a horrible start to the season, beating South Carolina at home and playing Alabama tough for most of the first half last week. Do these last two games represent actual improvement, or were they more indicative of typical fluctuations in play throughout the season?

Anthony Crawford: I think it’s fair to look at the past two games played by Kentucky and take away that it showed some improvement, especially when considering how bad the team started the season. The biggest improvements have come on the defensive side of the ball, without question. UK went from giving up 35 and 42 points to Southern Miss and New Mexico State, respectively, to limiting South Carolina to just 10 points and playing a very solid quarter, if not a whole half, against No. 1 Alabama. The defensive line is gradually getting to where it is not a complete liability in stopping opponents’ run game.

RW: With quarterback Drew Barker hurt, how does the offense change when backup Stephen Johnson is running the show?

AC: While the loss of Drew Barker seemed really disheartening to the team at first, it may have been somewhat of a blessing with how much Stephen Johnson’s mobility opens up the offense. UK’s offense has been heavy in run-pass options since Johnson took over and the offense has been able to develop much better rhythm as a result. The only bad thing is that Johnson has gotten loose with his ball security in recent weeks, and the last thing UK needs is to give the opponent more possessions because of turnovers.

RW: Vanderbilt has its own injury worries at quarterback, as Kyle Shurmur is banged up after taking some hits against Florida last week. How aggressively do you anticipate UK’s defense to rush the passer in this game?

AC: If UK follows a similar game plan to what it did against Alabama, it will likely start out very aggressively with the pass rush. Sending an outside linebacker on a blitz has become common in order to compensate for their underwhelming defensive line, so that’s something else to expect. But once Vanderbilt starts leaning more on its run game, I expect UK to settle back into more of a conservative scheme, because of how often the Wildcats are burned on the ground.

RW: Boom Williams is obviously a great weapon in UK’s backfield, but the passing game has produced a number of big plays for the ‘cats as well. What do you think the optimal run-pass split is?

AC: When Johnson isn’t turning over the ball, he’s often done a good job of getting multiple receivers involved in games, which is helped by the fact that UK has a very versatile receiver corps. But then between Boom Williams and true freshman Benny Snell, UK also has a strong one-two punch at running back. When it comes to distributing the touches, I think UK has to consider what it’s getting from Johnson and go from there. If he is making good decisions and having good pocket awareness, I think UK’s receivers give the team a big-play potential that Williams can only match a few times a game, if that.

RW: How do you see this one playing out? Make a score prediction, if you like.

AC: It might just be the underwhelming seasons both teams have had to this point or just the recent history of this series, but I’m expecting an ugly game. That’s not to say that it won’t be a hard-fought one, but I think that neither team has a notable advantage in the matchup. With that being said, I feel like this game does mean a little bit more for UK and it continues an upward trend in its play with a 23-20 win.

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