A season-ending torn left hamstring to starter Larry Smith has turned the Vanderbilt offense back over to Mackenzi Adams, a fifth-year senior and former starter who was beaten out by Smith in the pre-season. While the UK defense always had problems with ex-Commodores QB Chris Nickson, they've managed to keep Adams under control when he's been under center. Kentucky is again facing uncertainty at quarterback, with Mike Hartline back in the mix after missing four games with a knee injury. Regardless of who starts, expect to see both Hartline and freshman Morgan Newton in Saturday's game.
Kentucky welcomes back a fresher Derrick Locke after the junior sat out last week to rest a bothersome knee. Vanderbilt will come at the Wildcats with a 1-2 combination of true freshman backs in Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. Norman was the game's leading rusher in Vandy's 27-3 loss to Florida last week with 65 yards.
The Commodores return virtually the same offensive line that came into Commonwealth Stadium and pushed around the Wildcats last season. A pair of fifth-year seniors, center Bradley Vierling and right guard Eric Hensley, serve as the anchors. The UK offensive line continues to quietly go about its business and didn't have much trouble dealing with Eastern Kentucky last week.
Randall Cobb, UK's top play- making receiver, returns after missing the EKU game with a sprained thumb. He reportedly caught the ball well in practice this week despite wearing a small splint on his left hand. La'Rod King and Chris Matthews will try to continue their late-season development. Vanderbilt's receivers have caught just two touchdown passes, but keep on eye on sophomore tight end Brandon Barden, who has 22 catches for 269 yards and poses matchup problems at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds.
Vanderbilt has some experience up front but hasn't been overly stout against the run, ranking just ahead of Kentucky at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in rushing defense. Its most productive player has been senior tackle Greg Billinger (five tackles for loss, 31/2 sacks). The UK defensive line caught somewhat of a breather against Eastern Kentucky last week, but the last time it faced an SEC team Kentucky was gashed for 252 yards by Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon.
Vanderbilt sophomore middle linebacker Chris Marve seems on track to join a long list of Vanderbilt linebackers who were selected in the NFL Draft, including Jamie Winborn, Matt Stewart, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Jonathan Goff. Marve has 97 tackles this season while weak-side linebacker Patrick Benoist has chipped in 80. UK senior linebacker Micah Johnson continues to be bothered by a sore knee, but he will start. Sam Maxwell has played like a post-season awards candidate on the strong side.
Ex-Vandy cornerback D.J. Moore was selected in the fourth round of last year's draft, and the Commodores' secondary has another pro prospect in Myron Lewis, a 6-3, 205-pounder who has seven pass breakups and three interceptions. Kentucky's Trevard Lindley will try to give it another go after leaving last week's game with Eastern Kentucky because of a sprained ankle.
Vanderbilt has one of the nation's most dangerous return men in freshman Warren Norman, who has set an SEC record for kickoff return yards (951) and has tied Willie Gault's 29-year conference record with three kickoff return TDs. Vandy also has a solid punter (Brett Upson) and place-kicker (Ryan Fowler). The return of Cobb and Locke should boost the UK return game, but kicker Lones Seiber missed a 32-yard field goal and extra point against EKU.