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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 Bylines: Kentucky Wildcats

The Vanderbilt Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines, speaking with Cole Parke, the Sports Editor at the Kentucky Kernel, to preview Vanderbilt’s upcoming matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats.
Anseley Philippe
Savion Riley during the game against the Alabama A&M Bulldogs as photographed on Sept. 2, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Anseley Philippe)

The Vanderbilt Commodores (2-2) will look to break their .500 record against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, and redeem themselves from their 40-37 loss against the UNLV Rebels. Strong performances from QB AJ Swann in the Commodores’ previous two games have shown hope in the passing game, but a lack of a rushing offense persists. This weekend, Vanderbilt hosts the Wildcats at FirstBank Stadium in an 11 a.m. matchup. 

The Wildcats come into Nashville riding on a high after a 35-3 win against the Akron Rebels, adding to their undefeated record of 3-0. 

To preview Saturday’s game, the Hustler sat down with Cole Parke, Sports Editor of the Kentucky Kernel.

The Vanderbilt Hustler: Kentucky is currently 3-0 at this point, and is coming into this matchup after essentially shutting out the Akron Zips 35-3 last week. Do you think this trend can stay true to the Commodores? 

Cole Parke: I feel pretty confident that Kentucky will beat Vanderbilt, if that’s your question. As for the degree to which I think, it [can] go several ways. I think it depends on which Kentucky team shows up. So Kentucky played really, really close against Eastern Kentucky, an FCS school because the [Kentucky] offense just could not seem to get going in the first half. There’s a lot of reasons for that but [they] just simply could not get it going and it really stalled, and only a last minute touchdown allowed Kentucky to go into halftime 7-7. And then obviously the offense picked up and went on to win 28-17. So that was tough but in Week One against Ball State they won 44-14 despite a lot of people still not thinking they looked very good against Akron winning 35-3. And once again, a lot of people were not thinking they looked super good. Even if they take a little bit of struggle to actually get there. I’ve always got faith in Brad White on defense, and [our] defense is pretty strong. And the offense, when it’s clicking, can be really, really good. I know Vanderbilt has had a little issues on defense giving up 28 points to Hawaii, losing 36 at Wake Forest and 40 at UNLV. So, I feel pretty confident that, assuming Kentucky doesn’t shoot itself in the foot like it did against Akron.

VH: Thinking about the possible weaknesses of this Kentucky team, you mentioned those two high snaps, and there were even some false starts in there. Is that a big concern for you going into this week? 

CP: I would say offense more broadly apart from the actual weapons. The high snaps from Jager Burton were tough, and obviously this is Burton’s first year playing center as he was more of an on-the-line kind of guy, so he’s getting the hang of that. The false starts I think just come with the experience and getting comfortable, and a lot of that comes with getting comfortable with Leary, this is the first time in two years that there is a new quarterback calling the plays. So, the whole office has kind of had to adjust to that a little bit. And in the same vein, I think another potential weakness is not definitely his play, but it’s kind of harped on that Devin Leary has struggled. I don’t necessarily think he had much but in the first half against Eastern Kentucky, Liam Cohen and even Leary himself commented that he felt as though he was lacking confidence a little bit and was struggling to make the plays and sticking to the primary target and seeing the whole field. This will be their first time away from home this season, so that might be a factor. I don’t know how we’re going to be starting out the SEC play on the road. That’s always tough to do. 

VH: Even though the Vanderbilt team had a gut-wrenching loss this past weekend, AJ Swann had 296 passing yards, barely underscoring his previous performance of 314 passing yards against Wake Forest. How will the Wildcats take on this challenge? 

CP: It can be interesting. One thing that struck me was that I was looking at him a little bit, and there was quite a rough showing against Hawaii. Solid passing yards, but I’m assuming the sacks are what caused the negative 26 rushing yards and 24 yards against Alabama A&M. So I think a lot of it depends on how well he’s able to adjust to that mobility. 

I think Kentucky usually does pretty good about getting back into the pocket, but sometimes may struggle whenever a quarterback is able to really break free and run and that’s why I think it was so surprising last year when they were able to shut down Florida. Florida’s quarterback was gone and ready to rush and Kentucky prepared for that. But a quarterback who is not necessarily known for rushing, but can do it tends to sometimes get the better of Kentucky. I mean, you even saw in the Akron game last week, their quarterback got a couple plays where he was able to kind of break free for a quick first down. So I definitely think that Swann is a very talented quarterback. I think that there are a lot of really, really talented quarterbacks across the league. He wouldn’t be an SEC starter if he wasn’t talented, quite frankly. But I’m going to look at his numbers against Wake Forest highly as against Hawaii or UNLV because Wake Forest was the closest team Vanderbilt has played to an SEC school [thus far]. 

VH: You touched on this briefly, but we know that with Will Levis being drafted to the Titans, there might be a hole here. Does Devin Leary fill this gap?

CP: Leary is definitely different than Levis.  I mean, one of the biggest changes to Kentucky from last year, obviously has to be even beyond just Levis to Leary is the offensive coordinator. Last year was Rich Scangarello, who was relieved of his duties, to put it lightly, in the offseason and brought back Liam Cohen who was the offensive coordinator two years ago when Kentucky went on to win a Citrus Bowl and have a 10 win season. So a lot of people are really excited seeing Cohen come back, especially because of what they’ve seen Cohen do with Levis who is not too dissimilar from Leary. He was a transfer from another school who hadn’t really seemed to find their footing and leads a little bit of a different case having had some injury in the past. But I think so far confidence has been an issue, but you look at the actual numbers and efficiency stats, Leary has been solid. It’s not necessarily backed by data, but I personally like what I see from Leary more than what I saw from Levis, I think he has a higher upside than others did. And I actually found myself… getting frustrated last year with Levis. He tends to try to force a ball sometimes when there just wasn’t one there. And you saw that in some of the turnover numbers. Leary’s a little bit of the opposite of that case. I think Larry has a higher upside and he shows a lot of football IQ. 

VH: Finally, what is your score prediction for this weekend’s game?

CP: 28-17, Kentucky. I think after last year’s embarrassment at Kroger field to the Commodores I believe Mark Stoops is not going to let them take this team lightly. So, I’m gonna say Kentucky wins but I think the factors are still getting confidence starting, and organization as well.

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About the Contributors
Megan Curtis
Megan Curtis, Staff Writer
Megan Curtis (‘27) is from Queens, N.Y., and is majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in digital fabrication in the School of Engineering. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her watching the New York Yankees and training at the gym. You can reach her at [email protected].
Anseley Philippe
Anseley Philippe, Staff Writer and Photographer
Anseley Philippe ('25) is a potential biomedical engineering and Spanish double-major who aspires to be an immunologist. Outside of The Hustler, he can be found queuing up at 2301, wandering around campus during his evening promenades or trying to keep up with his Spanish. He can be reached at [email protected].
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