How Kentucky (6-3, 3-3 SEC) and Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-5 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson completed 17 of his first 18 passes before finishing 19-of-24 for 204 yards in last week’s 37-34 loss to Mississippi. The senior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is now fourth in the SEC in completion percentage (61.7). The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Johnson is also second on the UK team in rushing (304 net yards). Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur has thrown 20 touchdown passes with only three interceptions and is fifth in the SEC in passing yards (1,884). The 6-foot-4, 227-pound junior has not been especially accurate, however, completing 55.7 percent which is 12th in the SEC.
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Coming off monster games against Tennessee (180 yards, three touchdowns) and Mississippi (178 yards, three TDs), Kentucky’s Benny Snell now leads the SEC in rushing with 897 yards. Facing a Vandy defense that is 12th in the SEC against the run (211.6 yards a game), the 5-11, 223-pound Snell would seem a good bet to get the 103 yards rushing he needs to become the first Kentucky player ever to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Vanderbilt senior Ralph Webb already holds school records for career rushing yards (3,885), career 100-yards-plus rushing games (15) and rushing touchdowns (31). The 5-10, 202-pound Gainesville, Fla., product needs 44 yards vs. UK to pass ex-Florida star Emmitt Smith for 10th all-time in SEC career rushing yardage. To date, Webb has not enjoyed an especially productive senior season, however, as he is 14th in the SEC in rushing (543 yards).
Kentucky true freshman Isaiah Epps set up a Benny Snell touchdown last week with a spectacular 28-yard catch at the Mississippi 1-yard line. However, the 6-2, 185-pound product of Jenks, Okla., also had a costly drop in the second half. UK senior Garrett Johnson had three catches vs. Ole Miss and needs 62 receiving yards to become the fourth Wildcat all-time with 2,000 yards receiving. Vanderbilt’s wideouts may not be at Ole Miss’s level, but they are good. Senior C.J. Duncan is seventh in the SEC with 34 receptions, senior Trent Sherfield is ninth (32) and sophomore Kalijah Lipscomb is 12th (26).
After going four games without catching a pass, Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad had a big game (five catches, 75 yards, one TD) vs. Mississippi. For the season, the 6-5, 245-pound junior has 14 catches for 270 yards and four touchdowns. Vanderbilt uses two tight ends and both Jared Pinkney (15 catches, 153 yards, three TDs) and Nathan Marcus (six catches, 41 yards, one TD) are effective.
Kentucky redshirt freshman center Drake Jackson, the former Woodford County star, is slated to make his fourth straight start at center. His insertion into the lineup allowed Bunchy Stallings to move back to right guard and seems to have solidified the middle of the UK line. Vanderbilt left guard Saige Young, a 6-4, 315-pound sophomore, is a former Woodford County teammate of UK’s Jackson. Young is part of a Vandy line that has been more effective protecting the passer (only 11 sacks allowed, fourth in the SEC) than opening holes in the running game (last in the SEC in rushing at 103.2 yards a game).
In his first career start, Kentucky true freshman nose guard Quinton Bohanna was not credited with a tackle last week against Ole Miss. In fact, UK had no down defensive lineman credited with a solo tackle against the Rebels. Vanderbilt defensive tackle Dayo Odeyingbo made his first two career quarterback sacks last week in a 31-17 win against Western Kentucky. Even after the Commodores held WKU to minus-6 yards rushing on 30 attempts, Vandy is still 12th in the SEC (allowing 211.6 yards a game) against the run.
Kentucky WLB Jordan Jones has made 28 tackles in three games since returning from a shoulder injury. The 6-2, 221-pound junior had eight tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack against Ole Miss. Vanderbilt OLB Charles Wright had two sacks against Western Kentucky and is now tied for the SEC lead with eight. Two years ago, then a safety, current ILB Oren Burks intercepted two Kentucky passes and returned a pick of UK QB Drew Barker 30 yards for a TD in Vandy’s 21-17 win over UK in Nashville.
The Kentucky secondary was victimized for 382 yards and four passing touchdowns last week by Mississippi backup quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. The Cats are now last in the SEC against the pass (allowing 279.4 yards a game). Strong safety Mike Edwards led the Cats with 11 tackles last week and had a quarterback hurry. Vanderbilt senior strong safety Ryan White, the former Trinity High School star, is fourth on the Commodores in tackles (50) and leads the team in interceptions (two). Junior free safety LaDarius Wiley is Vandy’s leading tackler (73).
With Kentucky’s suspension of punter Matt Panton after the Australian was arrested last weekend for public intoxication, the Cats will apparently pull the redshirt from sophomore Grant McKinniss and use the Findlay, Ohio, product against Vanderbilt. McKinniss was UK’s regular punter last season as a true freshman, averaging 39.2 yards on 58 kicks. Already UK’s all-time leading career scorer (328 points), senior place-kicker Austin MacGinnis was 2-of-2 last week on field goals and is 15-of-20 on the season with a long of 53 yards. Vanderbilt punter Sam Loy is 13th in the SEC (39.4 yards a kick) and has stopped only 10 of his 53 punts inside the opponents’ 20. Place-kicker Tommy Openshaw has tried only six field goals all season and made two with a long of 42.
Kentucky 23, Vanderbilt 21