UK Football

How Kentucky and Vanderbilt match up — with a game prediction

Mark Stoops thinks his team is in a good spot

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talked to the media Thursday as his team prepares to play visiting Vanderbilt on Saturday.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talked to the media Thursday as his team prepares to play visiting Vanderbilt on Saturday.

How Kentucky and Vanderbilt match up at every position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson II will look to bounce back after losing two costly fumbles in the 34-6 loss at Alabama. Ball security has been a major issue for UK QBs in 2016 — Johnson has thrown an interception and lost three fumbles; the injured Drew Barker threw five picks and lost two fumbles. Vanderbilt sophomore Kyle Shurmur (696 yards passing, 51.5 completion percentage, three TDs with three interceptions) was knocked out of Vandy’s loss to Florida with an eye injury. He is expected to play vs. UK wearing an eye shield. In VU’s 21-17 win over the Cats last year, the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Philadelphia product went 13-of-26 for 166 yards with two TDs.

Advantage: Even

Running backs

UK star Boom Williams (97. 2 rushing yards a game, fifth in SEC) produced back-to-back 100-yards games vs. New Mexico State (181 yards) and South Carolina (123), but Alabama held the 5-9, 196-pound junior to 22 yards on nine carries. Kentucky senior Jojo Kemp (39 yards) led Cats rushers in Tuscaloosa, while true freshman Benny Snell continued to impress (38 yards on six carries vs. Bama). Vanderbilt junior Ralph Webb leads the SEC in rushing (116.4 yards) and all-purpose yards (138). The junior from Gainesville, Fla., needs 503 yards to eclipse Zac Stacy as Vandy’s all-time leading rusher. A year ago, Webb ran for 115 yards on 33 carries vs. UK.

Advantage: Kentucky

Wide receivers

Junior Garrett Johnson had four catches at Alabama and leads Kentucky with 17 receptions. True freshman Tavin Richardson (two catches, 24 yards) looked good in Tuscaloosa. Mark Stoops says he expects the injured Dorian Baker (hamstring) to play this week. Freshman Kalija Lipscomb leads Vandy wide-outs with 14 catches. Trent Sherfield, who led the Commodores with 51 catches in 2015, has eight this season. Junior Caleb Scott burned UK a year ago, catching a 37-yard TD pass on a “hidden end” trick play.

Advantage: Kentucky

Tight ends

C.J. Conrad caught five passes for 133 yards and three TDs vs. New Mexico State, but the UK sophomore has made only three receptions for 18 yards in two games since. Vanderbilt junior Nathan Marcus caught the game-winning TD in the Commodores’ overtime win at Western Kentucky. Backup Jared Pinkney, a redshirt freshman, had three receptions vs. the Hilltoppers.

Advantage: Kentucky

Offensive line

True freshman Landon Young has started the past three games at left tackle in place of the injured Cole Mosier (ankle). Mosier is expected back vs. Vandy, so it will be interesting to see how the playing time at LT is apportioned. Redshirt sophomore Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings made his first career start at Alabama at right guard. Vanderbilt left tackle Will Holden, a 6-6, 312-pound senior, has made 27 career starts. Center Barrett Gouger started at right guard last season.

Advantage: Even

Defensive line

UK rush end Denzil Ware had three solo tackles and a QB hurry at Alabama and continues to lead Kentucky in tackle for loss with 4.5. Vanderbilt senior DT Adam Butler recorded two sacks last week against Florida.

Advantage: Vanderbilt

Linebackers

Warren East product Eli Brown, a redshirt freshman WLB, had the most productive game of his Kentucky career with seven tackles at Alabama. Starting WLB Jordan Jones made eight stops vs. Bama and is second in the SEC in tackles (51). Vanderbilt ILB Zach Cunningham leads SEC tacklers with 52. ILB Ja’karri Thomas had 11 stops against Florida. OLB Oren Burks, a free safety a year ago, intercepted two UK passes in last season’s game and returned one for a TD.

Advantage: Vanderbilt

Defensive backs

Kentucky strong safety Mike Edwards had a team-best 12 tackles plus two pass breakups at Alabama. Mark Stoops says the 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore from Cincinnati “is playing at a high level.” Vanderbilt strong safety Ryan White, a Trinity High School product, has 27 tackles, two pass breakups and a tackle for loss. Free safety LaDarius Wiley had 10 stops against Florida.

Advantage: Vanderbilt

Special teams

UK true freshman punter Grant McKinniss averaged 44.7 yards on six kicks at Alabama. Place-kicker Austin MacGinnis accounted for all of Kentucky’s points last week with two field goals (45 and 30 yards). UK is second in the SEC in punt returns (18.2 yards average) and third in both kickoff returns (24.3) and kickoff coverage (net average 43.5). Vanderbilt place-kicker Tommy Openshaw is 5-of-6 on field goals, but has not connected from outside 40 yards (0-of-1). Kickoff returner Darrius Sims (24.6 yards average) is a big-play threat. Vandy, too, is strong on kickoff returns (second in SEC, 45.3 yards net).

Advantage: Kentucky

Prediction

Kentucky 20, Vanderbilt 16

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