UK football opponent preview: Vanderbilt

jclay@herald-leader.comAugust 31, 2012 

Our series on Kentucky's 2012 football opponents continues with Vanderbilt:

Date: Nov. 3 at Commonwealth Stadium.

Coach: Coach James Franklin went 6-7 in his first year at Vanderbilt, which included a 2-6 conference record. In reality, however, Franklin did a lot more, coaching the Commodores to a bowl game — Vandy lost 31-24 to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl — improving recruiting and pumping life into a program considered the doormat of the SEC.

Offense: Nine offensive starters return, including running back Zac Stacy, who ranked third in the league in rushing a year ago. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, little brother of Aaron, also returns. Jordan threw for 240 yards against Arkansas and 297 at Florida. He needs to cut down on interceptions. Rodgers threw three in a heartbreaking loss at Tennessee.

Defense: Seven starters return from a defense that ranked 18th in the nation last year. Second-year coordinator Bob Shoop, who has an economics degree from Yale, hopes that Chase Graham's move from outside linebacker to the middle solidifies the Commodores. Vandy intercepted 19 passes a year ago.

Overall: Vandy was just a few points away from an amazing season a year ago, losing 33-28 to Georgia, 31-28 to Arkansas, 31-26 at Florida and 27-21 in overtime at Tennessee. Having a season in Franklin's systems, will the 'Dores be able to win some of those close games this time around? The season opener might suggest little has changed, as Vanderbilt allowed No. 9 South Carolina to rally for a 17-13 victory Thursday night.

Series: Kentucky was blitzed 38-8 last year in Nashville. Before that, UK had won six of seven against the Commodores, including a four-game winning streak from 2004-07. The Cats have beaten Vandy four of the last five meetings in Lexington.

Schedule: Despite Thursday's heartbreaking loss to the Gamecocks, the key stretch will be at the end of the schedule. Franklin's team could conceivably win its last five games, which would make it a shoo-in for a second straight bowl trip.

Trend: Bobby Johnson did a good, solid job as Vandy's coach, but Franklin is trying to take the 'Dores to the next level.

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