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HEAD TO HEAD: VANDERBILT VS. KENTUCKY

The Vanderbilt Commodores travel to Lexington, Ky., on Saturday to face the Wildcats. VandyMania.com's Nate Yates evaluates the two teams in several key team areas and makes a prediction on the game's final score.

VANDERBILT PASSING OFFENSE VS. KENTUCKY PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Vanderbilt's passing offense has been hit or miss this season, showing competent outings against WKU and MTSU but sputtering out against SC, GT, and Florida.  Considering the streak has been bad, good, bad, good, bad, we're due for a good one.  QB Kyle Shurmur has completed 67  of 130 attempts for 696 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions for a per game average of 139.2 yards.  WR Kalija Lipscomb continues to lead the receivers with 14 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns and is followed closely by C.J. Duncan with 12 receptions for 141 yards.  The offensive line showed just how improved it is from last year by allowing only two sacks against a Florida team that was averaging 4.25 per game leading into the game.

Kentucky's pass defense is a far cry from the stout Florida unit VU played last week.  Kentucky has allowed 1,347 yards passing this year, for an average of 269.4 passing yards per game.  The secondary has also allowed 11 touchdown passes this season, however, they have recorded six interceptions this season.  CBs Blake McClain, Derrick Baity, and J.D. Harmon have 2 interceptions each.  The defensive unit has recorded 10 sacks this season and has the ability to get some pressure on the QB.

VANDERBILT RUSHING OFFENSE VS. KENTUCKY RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: VANDERBILT

The Vanderbilt rushing attack has 742 yards total on 196 attempts and nine touchdowns.  Ralph Webb still leads the attack with 582 net rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.  Last week Webb managed 110 yards on 24 carries against a stingy Florida defense that was only allowing 76.5 yards per game prior to facing off against the Vandy RB.  He's backed up by the Khari Blasingame who has 158 yards on 37 carries and three rushing touchdowns.  Vanderbilt's offensive line has played better this season.

Yet again, Kentucky's rush defense is a far cry from Florida.  Kentucky gives up an average of 198.6 yards per game and has allowed 993 rushing yards in addition to 10 rushing touchdowns this season.  Kentucky has recovered just one fumble this season and has recorded 26 tackles for loss. Linebacker Jordan Jones leads the defensive unit with 51 total tackles, trailing only Vanderbilt's inside linebacker Zach Cunningham in the SEC.

KENTUCKY PASSING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: KENTUCKY

Kentucky has passed for 903 yards this season on 61 receptions.  Quarterback Drew Barker started the season with a 50 percent completion rate and threw five interceptions before being injured.  Surprisingly this seems to have been a net gain for the Kentucky passing attack.  Quarterback Stephen Johnson stepped in and has completed 42 of his 66 attempts and has only surrendered one interception while racking up 579 yards and three touchdowns.  The lead Wildcat receiver is Garrett Johnson with 17 receptions for 239 yards and two touchdowns followed by tight end C.J. Conrad with nine receptions for 159 yards and 3 touchdowns. Wide receiver Jeff Badet rounds out the main receiving threats with eight receptions for 245 yards and a touchdown.

The Vanderbilt secondary has allowed 1243 passing yards this season and 7 passing touchdowns.  The defense has only forced 5 sacks this season, but showed improvement against Florida recording 2 that game.  The secondary has 3 interceptions this season.  The secondary has 27 pass breakups led by CB Taurean Ferguson and Star position Oren Burks with 5 each.

KENTUCKY RUSHING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: VANDERBILT

Kentucky's three-pronged rushing attack has racked up 859 yards on 196 carries this season and averages 4.4 per carry.  Running back  Boom Williams leads the backs with 486 yards on 67 carries and two touchdowns.  Benny Snell has been a surprise this year with 247 yards on 41 carries but five rushing touchdowns.  Jojo Kemp is the third back and has 75 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns.  

Vanderbilt has allowed 803 rushing yards on 167 attempts and 7 touchdowns this season.  The rush defense showed big time improvement last week allowing only 92 yards on 35 attempts against a Florida team that was averaging 184.75 rushing yards per game.  ILB Zach Cunningham leads the SEC with 52 total tackles, FS LaDarius Wiley follows up with 33 total tackles and 10 last week, CB Torren McGaster has the next most with 28 total tackles, and SS Ryan White is close behind with 27.  As a whole the Vandy defense has 27 tackles for loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS

EDGE: VANDERBILT

Vanderbilt's Tommy Openshaw has connected on 5-of-6 field goals with a long of 38 yards.  Punter Sam Loy has been consistent with 29 punts for a 42.6-yard average. He has a long of 60 yards.  His punts have good hang time and are difficult to return.  Darrius Sims has nine kickoff returns for a 24.6-yard average. He has a long return of 47 yards. Kalija Lipscomb has five punt returns for a 7-yard average.  Vandy's kick/punt coverage units have been sound allowing an average kickoff return of 22.9 yards and average 2.2 per punt return. 

Kentucky Kicker A. MacGinnis is 3-of-4 with a long of 45.  Punter Grant McKinniss has 23 punts for an average of 41.8 yards.  Charles Walker has 6 punt returns for an average of 18.2 yards and Benny Snell leads in kickoff returns with 4 for 102 yards an average of 25.5 yards per return.  The coverage unit allows an average of 16.75 yards per kick and 6.8 yards per punt.

COACHING

EDGE: VANDERBILT

Fourth-year coach Mark Stoops is 14-27 at Kentucky.  He previously was the DC at Florida State and Arizona before that.  He has led Kentucky to a 2-10, 5-7, and 5-7 record the past three years.

Third-year Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is 9-20 at Vandy. He previously was the defensive coordinator at Stanford and has coached as an assistant in the NFL. Mason took over coordinating of the Commodore defense following the 2014 season and in 2015 Vanderbilt had the most improved defense in the nation (FBS).

INTANGIBLES

EDGE: VANDERBILT

Vanderbilt seems to finally be overcoming the turnover bug, while Kentucky seems to have a full blown case of it.  Kentucky has had a stunning 12 fumbles and lost 8 of them compared to Vanderbilt's 6 and 2 lost.  On the other side of the offense, Kentucky has given up six interceptions compared to Vanderbilt's four.  Kentucky has negated those six picks by nabbing two of their own but has only recovered one fumble.  Vanderbilt has three interceptions and six fumble recoveries.  In addition, Stoops is at a point where his seat is on fire, fueled by a loss to Southern Miss and the OC he fired last year, blowout losses to Florida and Alabama and big-time struggles in their wins this season against New Mexico State (who scored 42 points on them) and a close game against South Carolina.  Mason has his own struggles but the state of the Vanderbilt program at least seems to be on the rise while Kentucky stock is plummeting.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 24, Kentucky 10.  Vanderbilt has been in need of a statement win, and Kentucky provides them the opportunity.  Expect the Vanderbilt defense to come out and perform the way they did against Florida and expect the Vanderbilt offense to take advantage of the opportunities presented by arguably one of the weakest defenses they'll face all year.  Kentucky may have the home field advantage, but Vanderbilt wants a SEC road win and this Saturday they'll get it.


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