Press Conference Notes: Mason and Commodores look towards physical matchup against Kentucky Wildcats

Derek Mason on Tuesday addressed Vanderbilt’s depth chart ahead of their contest against Kentucky, while previewing what to expect in this physical matchup.

Vanderbilt+takes+the+field+against+Ole+Miss+in+2020.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FTruman+McDaniel%29

Vanderbilt takes the field against Ole Miss in 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

Henry Hunter, Staff Writer

This Saturday, the winless Vanderbilt Commodores will travel to Lexington for a physical challenge against the Kentucky Wildcats (2-4) at 11:00 AM CST. During Tuesday’s press conference, Vanderbilt Head Football Coach Derek Mason stressed the challenges that Kentucky’s physicality will bring for the Commodores on both sides of the ball. 

“They play a certain style of football. It’s physical,” Mason said. “They like to control the clock. They’ve been effective when it comes to ball control. We’re going to have to be physical on both sides of the ball.”

 Kentucky’s offense’s top playmakers are running backs Asim Rose Jr. and Chris Rodriguez Jr., who have both averaged over 5.0 yards per carry this season. The strength of Kentucky’s offense is on the left side of the offensive line, where left tackle Landon Young and left guard Kenneth Horsey are the catalysts. Mason praised Young and Horsey’s play so far this season. 

“Their left side is big and physical,” he said. [Young and Horsey] will have an opportunity to play on Sunday. They move the line of scrimmage.” 

On the Commodores’ offense, sophomore running back Keyon Henry-Brooks appears to have emerged as the top ball-carrying option. After missing the Commodores’ first two games, Henry-Brooks debuted against South Carolina with 13 carries for 72 yards. His strong play continued against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, as he has averaged 183 all-purpose yards over both games with a touchdown in each.

Mason indicated this strong play has vaulted Henry-Brooks above running backs Ja’Veon Marlow and Jamauri Wakefield. The Commodores are fortunate to have Henry-Brooks’ timely play with Marlow still unavailable due to a violation of team rules.

“I believe Keyon has stepped up and played extremely well,” Coach Mason said. “It can’t just fall on one guy, but if there’s a guy who’s leading the race right now, it’s definitely Keyon Henry-Brooks.”

During last Saturday’s game against Ole Miss, Mason used two kickers situationally. Wes Farley kicked extra points, while Pierson Cooke took both field goal attempts, connecting on a career long 41-yarder. Mason explained how each kicker will be used going forward, with Farley handling only short-range kicks.

 “The demarcation line is the 28 yard line,” Mason said. “Wes has earned the right as those guys have competed. Pierson has a strong leg; the 28 yard line is the demarcator between those two.” 

Mason also provided updates on offensive lineman Drew Birchmeier, who was one of many Commodores to miss last week’s contest with COVID-related absences, and linebacker Elijah McCallister, who has missed the entire season due to injury.

Though both are progressing during their rehab process, neither player will be available for Saturday’s game. Mason said he is hoping to have Birchmeier back for the following week’s game against Kentucky. 

The SEC’s schedule will be light this weekend, with positive COVID-19 tests postponing three games: Auburn-Mississippi State, Alabama-LSU and Texas A&M-Tennessee. Mason reflected on the challenge each program faces due to COVID-19 every week.

“Every test, you’re holding your breath,” Coach Mason said. “It’s not just a challenge about preparing your team, but it’s a challenge of understanding how you’re going to be effective midweek.” 

Fortunately for the Commodores, despite cases spiking on campus and in Nashville, Mason’s roster appears to be avoiding an outbreak so far as it prepares for its physical matchup this Saturday against Kentucky.