Mark Story

How No. 14 Kentucky and Vanderbilt match up — with a game prediction

How No. 14 Kentucky (5-1, 3-1 SEC) and Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-3 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky redshirt sophomore Terry Wilson will be looking to bounce back after a subpar showing (108 passing yards; 4 net rushing yards; sacked six times) in UK’s 20-14 overtime loss at Texas A&M. For the season, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior-college transfer is completing 66.4 percent of his throws and is second on the UK team in rushing (304 net yards). Vanderbilt senior Kyle Shurmur will be making his fourth career start vs. UK. He is 1-2 vs. the Cats with losses the past two seasons. A pure pocket passer, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Shurmur is completing a so-so 58.7 percent of his passes this season with 11 TDs vs. five interceptions. A season ago, Shurmur threw for 308 yards against Kentucky but was intercepted four times in a 44-21 Cats victory.

Advantage: Vanderbilt

Kyle Shurmur passing
Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur will make his fourth career start against Kentucky this Saturday night in Lexington. Mark Humphrey Associated Press

Running backs

UK star Benny Snell leads the SEC in rushing (116.5 yards a game). A season ago, Snell ran for 116 yards and three TDs vs. Vandy. The 5-11, 225-pound junior figures to be keenly motivated after getting only 13 carries, for 60 yards, in UK’s loss at Texas A&M. Before leaving with an unspecified injury, Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn starred in the Commodores’ 37-27 loss to Florida last week. A transfer from Illinois, the 5-10. 215-pound junior had a 75-yard touchdown reception and a 43-yard run vs. the Gators. Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason says Vaughn is expected to play vs. Kentucky. On the season, Vaughn leads Vandy in rushing (495 yards, six TDs) and has caught seven passes for 131 yards and a score.

Advantage: Kentucky

Benny Snell at Vandy
Kentucky running back Benny Snell (26) ran for 116 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries in UK’s 44-21 win at Vanderbilt last season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Wide receivers

Kentucky sophomore slot receiver Lynn Bowden supplied almost all the UK offense in the loss to Texas A&M when he took a short flip pass and scooted 54 yards for the Cats’ sole offensive TD. On the season, Bowden is eighth in the SEC with 27 receptions. Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb has emerged as a star in his junior season. The 6-1, 201-pound wide-out is second in the SEC in receptions (49, for 560 yards) and has caught six touchdown passes.

Advantage: Vanderbilt

Kalija Lipscomb.JPG
Vanderbilt wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb (16) is second in the SEC with 49 receptions. Mark Humphrey Associated Press

Tight ends

Kentucky senior C.J. Conrad is second on the Wildcats in receptions (16, 114 yards) and has caught at least two passes in every game this season. Conrad also draws praise for his physicality as a blocker. Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney is second on the Commodores in receptions (22), receiving yards (348) and touchdown catches (three).

Advantage: Even

Offensive line

Kentucky right guard Bunchy Stallings was named a mid-season, first-team All-American by ESPN.com. Center Drake Jackson briefly left the Texas A&M game with a groin strain. Cats Coach Mark Stoops said “it would have been hard” for Jackson to play last Saturday if UK had not had an open date, but the Cats center is expected to go this week. Vanderbilt left guard Saige Young was a teammate of UK’s Jackson at Woodford County High School. Commodores center Bruno Reagan anchors an offensive line that has given up the second-fewest quarterback sacks (seven) in the SEC.

Advantage: Kentucky

BQDV3.So.79.jpeg
Kentucky center Drake Jackson (middle) and Vanderbilt left guard Saige Young (right) were teammates at Woodford County High School. Matt Goins

Defensive line

Kentucky senior tackle Adrian Middleton, a South Warren product, is the only Cats defensive lineman to start every game this season. His backup, junior Phil Hoskins, leads UK defensive linemen in tackles (14, with two QB sacks). Brothers Dare and Dayo Odeyingbo are both active in Vandy’s 3-4 alignment. Dare Odeyingbo, a 6-2, 282-pound senior, has nine tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in 2018. Dayo Odeyingbo, a 6-6, 270-pound sophomore, has 15 tackles, three QB hurries, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

Advantage: Kentucky

Adrian Middleton at Florida.JPG
Kentucky defensive tackle Adrian Middleton (99) tackled Florida running back Malik Davis (20) during UK’s 27-16 victory at The Swamp earlier this season. Middleton, a senior from South Warren High School, has made 31 consecutive starts for Kentucky. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Linebackers

Kentucky OLB/rush end Josh Allen begins the second half of the season first in the SEC in tackles for loss (10.5), third in sacks (six) and 28th in tackles (37). Allen, a 6-5, 260-pound senior from Montclair, N.J., was also chosen a mid-season, first-team All-American by ESPN.com. UK WLB DeAndre Square (six tackles, one QB hurry) and MLB Chris Oats (four tackles, 1.5 TFL, one sack), both true freshmen, played well at Texas A&M. Vanderbilt inside linebacker Jordan Griffin (not to be confused with the UK junior safety of the same name) had a whopping 18 tackles in the loss to Florida. On the season, the 6-foot, 232-pound senior is second in the SEC in tackles (68).

Advantage: Kentucky

Defensive backs

Kentucky senior safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards were exceptional in the loss at Texas A&M. Free safety West had 10 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery he returned for the touchdown that forced overtime. Strong safety Edwards made nine tackles with three TFL. Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams is eighth in the SEC with seven passes defended. Safety LaDarius Wiley is ninth in the SEC with 46 tackles.

Advantage: Kentucky

Darius West tackling.JPG
Kentucky senior safety Darius West (25) has 47 tackles, five pass breakups, three interceptions and a fumble recovery he returned for a touchdown through six games in 2018. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Special teams

Kentucky punter Max Duffy is enjoying a stellar debut season. The Australian sophomore is averaging 46.8 yards a punt and has stopped exactly half of his 28 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Senior place-kicker Miles Butler is 3-of-6 on field goals, and had a crucial miss from 43 yards in overtime at Texas A&M. Vanderbilt punter Parker Thome, a graduate transfer from Columbia, is having a strong season (45.2 yards a kick). Place-kicker Ryley Guay is 8-of-13 on field-goal tries but has been inconsistent. Last week against Florida, he made a field goal from 53 yards but missed from 25.

Advantage: Vanderbilt

Prediction

Kentucky 28, Vanderbilt 20

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

  Comments