Behind Enemy Bylines: Kentucky Wildcats

Prior to Vanderbilt’s matchup with Kentucky, the Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines with Cole Parke from the Kentucky Kernel.

The+Wildcats+beat+the+Commodores+14-7+at+Kentucky+on+Saturday%2C+October+20%2C+2018.+%28Photo+Emily+Gon%C3%A7alves%29

Emily Gonçalves

The Wildcats beat the Commodores 14-7 at Kentucky on Saturday, October 20, 2018. (Photo Emily Gonçalves)

Luke Rollfinke, Staff Writer

Following back-to-back disappointing losses to Missouri and South Carolina, the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-6) will look to get back on track against the Kentucky Wildcats (6-3) this Saturday at 11 a.m. CDT.

Kentucky has won each of its last six matchups against Vanderbilt, the most recent of which saw the Commodores fall 34-17 in Nashville last November. A Vanderbilt win on Saturday would not just break this losing streak against Kentucky, but also an SEC losing streak that has now totaled 26 games. ESPN’s Matchup Predictor gives the Commodores just an 11.6% chance to pull off the upset, but these seemingly slim chances of victory haven’t stopped head coach Clark Lea from impressing hope into his coaches and players.

“The team has shown incredible fight and resilience,” Lea told the media on Tuesday. “I feel really good about the heartbeat and spirit of this group and I’m excited for the stretch run of the season.”

The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Cole Parke, the sports editor for the Kentucky Kernel, to preview this Saturday’s matchup. 

Vanderbilt Hustler: Given high expectations for Kentucky entering the season and their current conference record of 3-3, how would you assess the team’s performance so far this year?

Cole Parke: Disappointing. I think almost anyone you ask will tell you this season has been disappointing for Kentucky. The expectations were high coming in after last year’s 10-3 Citrus Bowl winning season, especially with Will Levis coming back…Any kind of regression was always going to be met with backlash. To make matters even worse, all three of Kentucky’s losses so far have heavy criticism for different reasons. For Ole Miss it’s how close to victory Kentucky was and how many little mistakes cost it the game, for South Carolina it’s really the whole ordeal — that was not one many expected to lose and for Tennessee it was just the pure beatdown that Kentucky suffered. All in all, very disappointing.

VH: The offense has struggled at times to get going this year as evidenced by their 23.6 points per game (97th in the country). What are the primary causes behind that unit’s struggles?

CP: I think there’s several factors. Some may point to play calling or chemistry issues, but I think the biggest issue has been the offensive line. The protection just hasn’t been there for UK and, as a result of that, Levis is more banged up than he should be and the Cats have struggled to really have a consistent run game. 

VH: Alternatively, the defense has been among the nation’s best groups when it comes to allowing points (21st in the country). How do you think they will match up with Ray Davis and the Vanderbilt rushing attack?

CP: I think Kentucky will do what it does every week. Bend, but won’t break. One of the things that has made this defense especially compelling this year has been its ability to give up big drives and long yardage but still come away with only giving up a field goal. There’s been games where the defense hasn’t looked as good—the South Carolina game comes to mind—but for the most part it has been very strong. I see it doing well against Vanderbilt personally.

VH: Will Levis’ name has been floated around at the top of many NFL mock drafts. What does he bring to the table that makes him so intriguing as an NFL prospect?

CP: Probably the potential he has. Most of those scouts and draft guys aren’t looking at what a player is now, but rather what he can become. Think Josh Allen (Wyoming) in that regard. I think the draft scouts really like Levis’ arm strength, his ability to run with the football when he’s healthy, his mentality and mindset and his willingness to make tough plays even if it means taking contact. He’s a gritty guy and he’s got a cannon for an arm that he has shown off a few times this season. 

VH: Who are some players to watch out for as potential X-factors on Saturday?

CP: I think it’ll be the usual suspects that stick out on offense—Rodriguez, Levis, Brown, Key— but on defense I would say the linebackers and linemen. With a run-heavy offense like Vandy, a lot of the workload falls on those guys to perform at a higher level. JJ Weaver, Jordan Wright, Trevin Wallace, Octavious Oxendine, et cetera—all those guys will have to step up and make some big plays to keep the Commodores at bay.

VH: What is your score prediction for the game?

CP: 35-14 Kentucky.