Preseason Preview: Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky

We enter the final stretch of the season on the back of those three very difficult games against top ten SEC powerhouses. With just three games to go Vandy gets a game against what would probably be considered an SEC basement dweller for the first time all season when Kentucky come to town.

We enter the final stretch of the season on the back of those three very difficult games against top ten SEC powerhouses. With just three games to go Vandy gets a game against what would probably be considered an SEC basement dweller for the first time all season when Kentucky come to town.

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 16; Time TBD

WHERE: Vanderbilt Stadium (Nashville, TN)

LAST SEASON: 2-10 (0-8 SEC, 7th (last) place in SEC East; No bowl game)

CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not ranked

SERIES HISTORY: Kentucky leads, 41-40-4. (Last meeting: Vanderbilt 40, Kentucky 0, in game 9 last season)

OFFENSE: Joker Phillips is out and new head coach Mark Stoops made his name on the defensive side of the ball. With that said this offense is in need of some serious help if it is to do much of anything in the SEC this fall.

The good news is that the three way quarterback battle has been cut to a two horse race with sophomore former starters Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow both in the hunt. The bad news is that both have had enough downs to go with their ups to the point that Stoops is still thoroughly undecided as to who his man will be with less than two weeks to go before the Wildcats opening day. Either way, if the starter at the beginning of the season struggles you have to believe there will be pretty quick hook waiting in the wings.

The biggest problem for whoever does start at quarterback is that Kentucky has major issues at wide receiver. The potential is there, but there is a severe lack of production and consistency coming back. The pair of wide outs that were expected to break out in 2012, Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins, flopped big time as the combined for just 45 catches and no touchdowns. Running back is also an issue as injuries and departures have already hit the Wildcats hard. If senior Raymond Sanders and sophomore Dyshawn Mobley can stay healthy they will be okay, but the drop off behind those two is cavernous.

Conclusion: The offense has a lot to work on if Stoops is going to get this team off of the lowest rung of the SEC ladder this fall. The offense will have to limit the mistakes as much as possible because the talent just doesn't seem to be there to make up for turnovers and negative plays. Vanderbilt should have the speed, athleticism, and experience to shut down this Kentucky offense for the vast majority of the game.

DEFENSE: Defensively the Wildcats have the talent and experience which Stoops would love to have access to throughout the team. The defensive line especially looks to be a strength, and if Stoops can coach up tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph to get the best out of the behemoths then they might be impossible to run on. The two beasts at tackle will be ably supported on the ends of the defensive line by the trio of Alvin Dupree, Jason Hatcher, and Za'Daruis Smith. Dupree especially is one to watch for as one of the league's best linebackers transitions from linebacker to end.

Stoops biggest impact will have to be on his secondary if he wants the Wildcats to be effective immediately. He will need to find a couple of new starters from his first recruiting class, most likely Marcus McWilson and JUCO transfer Nate Willis. Kentucky played a bunch of then freshmen last fall, so expect the secondary to be one of the youngest in the league. This bodes well for the future, but Stoops will have to work minor miracles with this group for them to be competitive from the off.

Conclusion: Stoops has recruited difference makers up-front and speed and athleticism in the secondary, both areas that certainly needed work. The building blocks are starting to fall into place for this defense, but for them to be really effective the defensive line has to play lights out almost every week. If Vandy can find a way to move the two defensive tackles, especially as they wear down when the game goes on, then they will be able to run the ball. If not then expect the passing game to go right after the weak links and youth in the secondary.

Other Factors: The best special teams player the Wildcats have on the roster is sophomore punter Landon Foster. In last year's toothless campaign Foster was often the best player on the Kentucky team in any phase of the game and he is going to get better. If he can punt effectively for field position negating returns then the Wildcats will at least have a starting point to build around.

Conclusion: Kentucky has started on the right track with the hiring of Stoops, but this is a serious rebuilding project. Comparisons to Vanderbilt are just, but there is much less in the closet than when James Franklin arrived in Nashville. Kentucky is going to be beaten up by a downright brutal schedule and it is hard to see them posing much threat to Vanderbilt this year.

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