How Kentucky and Vanderbilt match up for Saturday's game at Vanderbilt Stadium:
Patrick Towles has completed only 47-of-96 passes with five interceptions and one touchdown in the past three games. So Mark Stoops declared the Kentucky QB job open this week between Towles and redshirt freshman Drew Barker (8-of-11 passing with one pick in limited action). Vanderbilt's Johnny McCrary has made seven starts, but he has completed only 54.8 percent of his passes and thrown twice as many picks (12) as TDs (six). Freshman Kyle Shurmur has made two starts, but was sidelined for last week's 9-7 Vandy loss at Florida by a concussion.
After missing UK's 27-3 loss at Georgia with an elbow injury, Boom Williams should be back this week. Mark Stoops says the sophomore running back (eighth in the SEC with an average of 80.4 yards a game) will have to play with a brace on his elbow. Vanderbilt's Ralph Webb is sixth in the SEC in rushing (90.1 yards a game). The redshirt sophomore ran for 118 yards, most on a 74-yard TD, last week at Florida. Darrius Sims, who had a 13-yard pick-six against Kentucky last season, is averaging 6.5 yards a carry now that he's moved to offense.
Mark Stoops praised UK sophomore wideout Garrett Johnson (38 receptions, team-best 611 yards) as a player "giving us everything (he has)." Added Stoops: "(Johnson) has made some extremely difficult catches." Trent Sherfield (41 receptions) is the sole Vanderbilt wide receiver with more than 19 catches. He's averaging 12.6 yards a catch and has two TDs.
Kentucky true freshman C.J. Conrad (13 catches, 139 yards, one TD) has been sure-handed most of the season but had a costly drop last week at Georgia. Vanderbilt senior Steven Scheu is the Commodores second-leading receiver (24 catches). His backup, Nathan Marcus, has three catches.
Kentucky true freshman right tackle George Asafo-Adjei will return to provide depth after being injured in the Tennessee game. With its offensive front struggling, UK needs all the boost it can get. Vanderbilt has tremendous experience in the interior of its line — guard Jake Bernstein and center Spencer Pulley have each made 38 career starts. Vandy is better at run blocking than pass protecting.
Senior hybrid end Jabari Johnson had eight tackles last week at Georgia. Kentucky did not have one quarterback sack or hurry in Athens, however. Vanderbilt senior end Caleb Azubike returned from a jaw injury to make three tackles and to force and recover a fumble at Florida.
Kentucky senior MLB Josh Forrest had 10 tackles and senior WLB Khalid Henderson nine in the loss at Georgia. Mark Stoops praised both players this week for playing "extremely hard." Vanderbilt ILB Zach Cunningham has emerged as a star in 2015. The redshirt sophomore leads the SEC in fumbles recovered (three), is third in fumbles forced (three), fourth in TFL (12.5), 14th in tackles (68) and 18th in sacks (3.5).
Demoted behind redshirt freshman Mike Edwards, Kentucky senior safety A.J. Stamps responded with a team-high 11 tackles and a pass break up at Georgia. Vanderbilt safety Ryan White was a Trinity High School teammate of UK defensive end/linebacker Jason Hatcher. A 5-9, 190-pound redshirt sophomore, White has 24 tackles, three QB sacks and an interception in spite of starting only one game.
It's been a slog for the UK special teams. The Cats are last in the SEC in kickoff coverage, 11th in net punting, ninth in punt returning and sixth in kickoff returning. Place-kicker Austin MacGinnis has been a plus (12-of-14 field goals, long of 48 yards). Vanderbilt's special teams have also struggled. The Commodores are last in the SEC in net-punting, have missed seven of 19 field-goal tries, and are 12th in punt returning.
Vanderbilt 10, Kentucky 9