Behind Enemy Bylines: Kentucky Wildcats

The Vanderbilt Hustler caught up with Barkley Traux of the University of Kentucky’s Kentucky Kernel to preview the Commodores’ upcoming matchup against the Wildcats.

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Emily Gonçalves

Lynn Bowden Jr. celebrates a touchdown as Kentucky defeats Vanderbilt 38-14 on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Andy Carr, Staff Writer

The Vanderbilt Commodores (2-7, 0-5) will host the Kentucky Wildcats (6-3, 4-3) this Saturday at 6 p.m. CST at Vanderbilt Stadium. 

Last season, the Commodores were defeated by the Wildcats by a score of 38-35, and they open as 21-point underdogs this year. The past five contests, Kentucky has emerged victorious, but both teams are in the midst of losing streaks: the Commodores have dropped four straight, while the Wildcats have lost three games in a row.   

The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Barkley Traux of the University of Kentucky’s Kentucky Kernel to preview this Saturday’s matchup.

Vanderbilt Hustler: How do you think Kentucky is feeling heading into the game against Vanderbilt coming off of three straight losses?

Barkley Traux: Kentucky is hungry for a victory to say the least. With just three games left in the regular season—it’s now or never for the Cats’ New Year’s Six bowl hopes. They know they can’t afford to lose another game. Losing back-to-back games against unranked opponents hurts and a season that was supposed to be this magical never-before-seen success story is quickly spiraling downhill. Look for the Cats to want to win and win big on Saturday.

How do you think not knowing who will start at quarterback for the Commodores (either Ken Seals or Mike Wright) will affect the Wildcats’ game plan going in?

Mark Stoops said this week that he’s prepared for whoever ends up under center this weekend. The last two weeks, Will Rogers and Hendon Hooker torched the Wildcats’ secondary in two different ways. Kentucky has little to no depth in their secondary this season and has been prone to giving up the deep ball during the losing streak. For Vanderbilt, that would play more toward Seals giving the Commodores the best chance for success. Kentucky prides themselves on being able to stop the run and I don’t see Wright breaking free many times from the front seven led by Josh Paschal, JJ Weaver, DeAndre Square and Jacquez Jones.

What is the state of the Wildcats’ roster after dealing with several injuries on both the offensive and defensive line?

That Eli Cox injury hurts more than most fans will realize. That’s a midseason All-American going down right in the middle of the line. It’s likely they’ll shuffle some guys around such as Jeremy Flax, a former top junior college transfer, and freshman guard Jager Burton, who is the reigning high school Mr. Football in Kentucky. It’s my belief that with the core of Luke Fortner in the middle with Dare Rosenthal and Darian Kinnard on the edges—the Big Blue Wall will likely be just fine. 

In terms of defense, not having Octavious Oxendine is a big blow to the already injury-riddled front four. Marquan “Bully” McCall returned to practice this week, though. It’s likely we’ll find out his gameday status later today. If he’s ready to go—you’ve got a 320-pound-plus nose guard to deal with, but if not, the D-line is deep enough to hold their own with the SEC schedule winding down.

Kentucky’s defense allows the fifth-fewest points per game out of SEC teams, while Vanderbilt scores the fewest points per game. Keeping that in mind, how do you think the Wildcats are approaching this game defensively?

I think this week’s game plan will be predicated on whoever Vanderbilt goes with under center this week. With Wright under center, the backers I mentioned previously will be given a lot of blitzing assignments on Saturday in the hope to stop the dual-threat quarterback, which means you’ll get a lot of man-to-man coverage from the defensive backs. With the secondary not being the best right now, Brad White is hoping his linebackers will get into the backfield before Wright can escape to the edge and/or get the ball downfield with his arm.

If it’s Seals, Kentucky has had success going with their zone coverages, especially when it comes to the deep pass. Most, if not all, of the 30-plus-yard pass plays Kentucky has given up this season have come on man coverage—teams have abused one-on-one mismatches against the Cats. If Vanderbilt wants to beat the defense at their own game, it’ll have to nickel-and-dime Kentucky to death. For whatever reason, Kentucky’s defense simply cannot guard the flats, no matter the opponent.

Whatever the case may be, I believe Mark Stoops will have his team prepared for either, or both, to be out there at some point. Everyone in the program is ready to get back to the pre-Georgia momentum and everyone seems to think it’ll start with Saturday.

What is your score prediction for Saturday’s game?

Kentucky 38, Vandy 14. 

Kentucky just came off a game where they compiled 612 offensive yards and Will Levis just had the best performance of his career. Chris Rodriguez, who led the SEC in rushing yards before Kentucky’s bye week, is due for a big game as well. If last week’s loss to Tennessee was any indication, Kentucky’s offense is finally finding their groove under offensive coordinator Liam Coen.