UK Football

Vanderbilt coach hints his offense may have big-play plans for Kentucky

Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb (7) is caught between Florida defenders Marcus Maye (20) and Marcell Harris (26) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Florida won 13-6. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb (7) is caught between Florida defenders Marcus Maye (20) and Marcell Harris (26) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Florida won 13-6. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) AP

It’s been no secret Vanderbilt wants to run its offense through star playmaker Ralph Webb.

Of the Commodores’ 339 plays this season, 37.8 percent have involved the junior running back in some way.

But on the Southeastern Conference teleconference on Wednesday, Coach Derek Mason hinted his Vandy offense had secret weapons beyond Webb in its weekend plans for Kentucky.

“We’ve got to look at some other options,” Mason said. “I don’t want to speak about everything because part of it is going into the game plan we have versus Kentucky.

“We’re going to look to the pass and move it around a bit, give those guys quicker opportunities to get some touches and still pound it on the ground and take some shots.”

The Vandy coach said he expects there will be a “good mix” to test Kentucky’s defense. So far this season, Vanderbilt has run the ball 57.8 percent of the time, averaging 3.8 yards per run.

Of the Commodores’ 12 offensive touchdowns, nine have come on the ground.

In his regular Tuesday news conference, Mason said he was looking for more “splash plays.” This season, there are only three other schools in the country with fewer plays of 20 yards or more.

The Commodores have had just 13 of those. Their six plays of 30-plus yards are better than only four other teams nationally, with three coming on the ground and three via pass.

“It comes down to splash plays,” said Mason, whose passing offense is the worst in the league. Vandy is averaging just 154.6 passing yards a game, mostly behind sophomore Kyle Shurmur (three touchdowns, three interceptions).

“And you need to have splash plays. And being methodical and efficient is what you want to do, but you have to have splash plays in ball games.”

Aside from a big play given up in the second half by true freshman cornerback Jordan Griffin to Alabama star Calvin Ridley, Stoops has been pleased with the play of his secondary the last two games.

“I thought our secondary matched some things up very well, extremely well,” Stoops said on Monday. “Those guys were really straining and running. There were things we could do better and need to tighten up. I don’t want to get into specifics, but there were certain sets where we needed to be tighter. That’s a mental and physical thing that we can get cleaned up.”

Against Florida last week, Webb rushed for 110 yards on 24 carries, becoming the first 100-yard rusher against the stingy Gators defense this season. He also caught two passes for 17 yards in a 13-6 loss.

If Vandy wanders too far from its game plan to get the ball in Webb’s hands, it would be a surprise.

“They really got in big sets, they got in two-tight-end-and-a-fullback sets and/or 12-personnel, two tight ends and two wide outs,” Stoops said of the myriad ways Vandy feeds Webb. “They were getting in big sets and really pounding the football.

“He’s a very, very good player. He gets quality yards. He’s tough to bring down. He’s got good vision, and they’re riding him right now because they’re making it difficult on defenses.”

Kentucky is coming off a game against the SEC’s best offense, with Alabama averaging 44 points per game.

Vanderbilt is at the opposite end of the spectrum, managing just 20.2 points a game (better than only South Carolina’s 14). The Commodores’ 302.4 yards of offense a game is 13th in the league.

A ticket promo and figures

Kentucky is running a ticket flash sale of sorts for Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt at Commonwealth Stadium. Fans can purchase lower level tickets to the game for $45, according to a “Reply Buy” promo the school is advertising on Twitter and its website.

Fans can text the word “KENTUCKY” to 20123 to buy tickets. The deal runs through Friday at 4 p.m.

As of Wednesday, there are 50,500 tickets out for the game against the Commodores, a school spokesman said. That would be below the average for UK’s first three home games, which were announced crowds 57,230 (Southern Miss), 49,669 (New Mexico State) and 51,702 (South Carolina).

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

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