Head to Head: Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky

The Vanderbilt Commodores host the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.'s Don Yates compares the two teams in several critical team areas and makes a prediction on the game's final score.



Vanderbilt is 13th in the SEC in both scoring offense (14.8 ppg) and total offense (340 ypg).  The Commodore’s passing offense is 12th (106th nationally) in the conference averaging just 185 ypg.   On the season quarterback Johnny McCrary has completed 144 of 263 for passes 1,529 yards, six touchdowns and 12 interceptions.   Last week against Florida McCrary completed 3 of 14 passes for 30 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Trent Sherfield leads the Commodores in receiving with 41 catches for 518 yards and two touchdowns.   Tight end Steven Scheu and running back Ralph Webb each have 21 catches. 

Kentucky has the eighth best (58th nationally) passing defense in the SEC (216.6 ypg).  Last week against Georgia the Wildcats limited the Bulldogs to just 90 passing yards on 10-for-19 passing attempts.  The Wildcats have intercepted opponent passes six times this season.  Cornerbacks Chris Westry and J.D. Harmon   each have two picks.  The Wildcats have sacked opposing quarterbacks 13 times this season. 



Vandy’s rushing offense is 10th in the SEC (87th nationally) averaging 154.9 yards per game.   Running back Ralph Webb has 811 yards on 198 carries (4.1 ypc) for five touchdowns.  Webb is sixth in the SEC in rushing yards.  Against Florida Webb gained 118 yards on 22 carries (5.4 ypc) and had a 74-yard touchdown run that nearly was enough to upset the Gators. 

Kentucky’s rushing defense is 12th in the SEC (97th nationally) allowing 195.3 yards per contest.  Over the past three games the Wildcats have given up 753 yards while allowing 5.8 yards per carry to opposing runners.  Senior middle linebacker Josh Forrest leads the Wildcats in tackles with 76 (6th in SEC).   



The Wildcats are fifth in the SEC (64th nationally) in passing yards per game at (228.7).  Junior quarterback Patrick Towles has completed 170 of 296 passes for 2,011 yards, 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  However, there is some discussion in the Kentucky media circles that backup quarterback Drew Barker might see action against Vandy.  Kentucky wide receiver Dorian Baker is sixth in the SEC in receptions per game (5.1).  Opponents have intercepted 13 Wildcat passes this season.  Wildcat blockers have allowed 23 sacks.

The Commodore pass defense is seventh in the SEC (45th nationally) in yards allowed at 203.7 per game.  In the loss to Florida, Vanderbilt limited Florida starting QB Treon Harris to just 12-of-24 completions for 154 yards and one interception. Vanderbilt has four interceptions this season including one by Ryan White against Florida.



The Wildcat rushing offense is 13th (107th nationally) in the conference, gaining 135.8 yards per game. Kentucky will see the return of star running back Boom Williams who leads Kentucky in rushing with 563 yards on 85 carries for three touchdowns.  UK ran for just 79 yards in last week’s 27-3 loss at Georgia. 

Vanderbilt’s rushing defense is statistically the second best unit in the SEC (14th nationally) allowing just 112.4 yards per game.   Last week Vanderbilt limited the Gators to just 93 yards on 34 carries (2.7 ypc).  Stephen Weatherly is tied for second in the SEC for number of fumbles force at two.  Linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the Commodores in tackles with 69.  He has 12 ½ tackles for loss and has recovered three fumbles.



Vanderbilt’s special teams units are rated 108th nationally by   Tommy Openshaw both punts and kicks for the Commodores.  Openshaw has made 12-of-19 field goal attempts on the season with a long of 49 yards.  He didn’t attempt a field goal in the past two games.   Openshaw averages 40.8 yards a punt with a long of 78 yards.  He had a 12 yard shank last week at Florida that gave the Gators a very short field for their winning score.   He’s had one punt blocked.   Ryan White has 15 punt returns for an 8.5 yard average with a long return of 36 yards.  Darrius Sims has 21 kickoff returns for a 20.1 yard per return average.  Vandy’s kick/punt coverage teams have been somewhat sound except for a long scoring punt return allowed to Georgia and a long non-scoring kickoff return allowed to Florida last week.   Openshaw saved a touchdown there with a tackle. rates the Wildcat special teams as No. 100 nationally.  Austin MacGinnis has connected on 12 of 14 field goal attempts for Kentucky with a long of 48 yards.   He was injured in the loss to Georgia but is expected to play versus Vanderbilt.  Landon Foster averages 40.3 yards per punt with a long boot of 53 yards.  He’s placed 10 inside the 20-yard line.  Ryan Timmons averages 7.4 yards per punt return with a 19 yard return being his longest.  Sihiem King has 18 kickoff returns for 20.1 yards.   UK kick/punt coverage units gave up an 84-yard punt return to Tennessee and a 100-yard kickoff return to the Vols. 



Derek Mason is in his second season at Vanderbilt with a 6-15 (.286) (1-12 SEC) record.  Prior to Vanderbilt Mason was a successful defensive coordinator at Stanford.  In 2012 Mason was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach.  Mason has some NFL coaching experience serving stints with the Vikings, Raiders, Giants and Rams.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops is in his third season with Kentucky.  Stoops is 11-22 (.333) overall (4-19 SEC).  Prior to Kentucky Stoops was the defensive coordinator at Florida State from 2010-12 and held the same position at Arizona from 2004-09.  He also assistant coaching stints at Miami (Fla.), Houston, Wyoming, South Florida and Iowa. 



Vanderbilt returns home after a 0-2 road trip.   Kentucky leads the all-time series with Vandy 42-41-4 but the Commodores lead in games in Nashville 26-19-2.   UK is 27th nationally in red zone offense (0.889), Vanderbilt is 87th (0.615).  Vandy is eighth nationally in red zone defense (0.710) while UK is 20th (0.756). 

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 13, Kentucky 6.   The return of Boom is concerning but if Vandy uses the same strategy as they did at Florida (run the ball, not turnovers) they should be able to pull off a tough win.   If they try to revert to the air Johnny McCrary Vandy’s dim bowl hopes will be no more. 


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