Head-to-Head: Inside Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky

This is the 79th game in the series. Currently, this series is tied at 37 wins apiece with four ties. In Lexington, the Wildcats lead 20 games to 13 with two ties; at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky leads 12 games to four.

Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky

Game 11

Saturday, 11-November-2006—12:00 Noon CST

 

Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates + Sirius Radio

 

Kentucky games are broadcast over two powerful radio stations that can be heard over 100 miles away.  WHAS 840 AM out of Louisville and WCKY 1530 out of Cincinnati both carry out of state.  If you are listening to the game at Commonwealth Stadium, the local Lexington affiliate is WLAP-AM 630/WBUL-FM 98.1

 

Additionally www.ukathletics.com  offers free live audio of their football games.

 

Weather Forecast: In a word, Yucky!  Prepare for temperatures in the low 50's with thundershowers and a stiff wind out of the West Northwest.  Once the rain passes through, a cold front will sweep in and dropping temperatures to the low 40's by late afternoon.

 

Getting There

 

From Downtown Nashville, take I-65 North for 130 miles to Elizabethtown.  Leave I-65 at the Bluegrass Parkway (exit 93 Bardstown/Lexington).

 

Follow the Bluegrass Parkway 71 miles to its termination at US 60.  Take US 60 East (toward I-64 East), also known as Versailles Road (you are heading right on US 60).

 

About two and a half miles ahead on the left is the famous Keeneland Race Track, home of the Toyota Bluegrass and Coolmore Lexington Stakes, two of the key Kentucky Derby prep races.  It is a beautiful facility worth a picture or two.

 

Continue on Versailles Road past Man O' War Blvd.  Here, you have two choices.

 

Option A: Turn right onto Kentucky State Highway 4 South (New Circle Road), which is Lexington's outer beltline.  Follow Hwy 4 about four miles to US Highway 27/Nicholasville Road (exit 19).  Turn left at Nicholasville Road.  Follow it about two miles to Alumni Drive and take a right.  Turn right and you're there.

 

Option B: Continue on Versailles Road into Lexington proper.  Turn right on Mason Headley Drive (less than a mile past Hwy 4/New Circle Rd.)  Follow Mason Headley Drive across Broadway/US Hwy 68 and continue straight as the road becomes Waller Avenue.  Follow Waller Avenue to Nicholasville Road/US Hwy 27.  Turn right at Nicholasville Road and you're there.

 

 

Note: Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium is the youngest stadium in the Southeastern Conference, opening in 1973.  Prior to 1973, the Wildcats played at Stoll Field/McLean Stadium.  The stadium was land-locked and could not be expanded from its 37,000 seat capacity.  From Commonwealth Stadium, here's how to find where that stadium once stood:

 

From the corner of Waller and Nicholasville, if you turn left on Nicholasville and then a right onto Rose Street, it will take you to legendary Memorial Coliseum less than a half mile later.  On the left side of Rose Street between Patterson and Avenue of Champions, notice the Kentucky Marching Band practice field.  This was the location where Stoll Field stood for 56 years.  The current band practice field is perpendicular to where the old stadium was.  Imagine one end zone adjacent to the parking lot next to the practice field and the other end zone back where the Singletary Center for the Arts Building now stands.  The last game played at this stadium was in 1972, when the Wildcats edged Vanderbilt 14-13.  After this game, it was announced that Commodore head coach Bill Pace would not return for the 1973 season.  For Kentucky coach John Ray, it would be his last win at Kentucky.  The former Notre Dame assistant, who molded the great 1966 Irish defense, got his walking papers soon after Pace submitted his resignation.

 

 

The Statistics

 

Vanderbilt 1-5 in the SEC, 4-6 Overall

Kentucky 3-3 in the SEC, 5-4 overall

 

This is the 79th game in the series.  Currently, this series is tied at 37 wins apiece with four ties.  In Lexington, the Wildcats lead 20 games to 13 with two ties; at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky leads 12 games to four.

 

Since 1960, Kentucky has taken control of the rivalry.  The Wildcats have won 31 games to 14 games for the Commodores (one tie).

 

One of the most memorable games in this series occurred at Stoll Field in 1970.  Kentucky scored 17 points in the first quarter to apparently put the game out of reach; In 80 years of Commodore football history, no team had ever come from behind to win after trailing by 17 (the biggest comeback victory had been 15 points against Kentucky in 1941). 

 

Wildcat quarterback Bernie Scruggs led the blue and white on a 61-yard drive to start the game.  It ended with a 29-yard pass to Jim Reed for the touchdown.  Bob Jones added the point after.

 

The Wildcats next possession went 83 yards in 11 plays.  Scruggs found Reed for a 23-yard completion and then connected with Al Godwin for 22.  Scruggs sneaked in from the one and Jones made the point after to make it 14-o Wildcats after 10 plus minutes.  On the ensuing kickoff, Commodore return man Robert Latham fumbled the ball, and Kentucky's Jim Smith recovered at the Vandy 15.  The Cats picked up 10 yards and a first down at the five and then failed to move the ball in the next three plays.  Jones kicked a 22-yard field goal to make it 17-0 after 15 minutes.

 

The Commodore defense toughened in the second quarter and kept Kentucky from doing further damage, but the Vandy offense couldn't move the ball.  At the half, the score remained 17-0.

 

During the intermission, Commodore coach Bill Pace, known as one of the kindest gentlemen ever to roam the sidelines, tore into the Commodores for the first time in his three plus year tenure.  It lit a fire in the Commodores, for in the final 30 minutes, they were a totally different team.

 

The game began to turn around when quarterback Steve Burger, starting his first game as quarterback after being a halfback previously, dropped back to throw to Curt Chesley.  A Kentucky defender deflected the ball, and it bounced toward Commodore Jeff Peeples.  Peeples had been having difficulty holding onto the ball in prior games, but he took hold of the "wounded duck" and took off virtually unmolested.  50 yards later, he crossed the Wildcat goal line.  Bob Bayless missed the point after, making it 17-6 Wildcats. 

 

At the end of the third quarter, the Commodores came up with another big play, recovering a fumble deep in Kentucky territory.  Burger completed a pass to Allan Spear inside the one yard line and then dove over to notch the score.  A two-point conversion attempt failed, making it 17-12 Kentucky after three periods.

 

Kentucky appeared to be driving for a score that would put the game away in the final period.  Scruggs drove the Cats inside the Commodore 35 and then dropped back to pass.  Defensive back John Burns, who had been practicing all year in a removable cast to protect a dislocated wrist and had gotten used to catching passes one-handed, reached his one good hand forward and picked off the pass without the benefit of the other hand.  He raced down the sidelines 46 yards to the Kentucky 25.

 

Burger dropped back after a play-action fake and hit Peeples for 15 yards, and then found Peeples open in the end zone for the go ahead score.  Once again, the Commodores failed on a two-point try.  Vandy led 18-17 with eight minutes to go.

 

The defense continued to shut the Wildcats down for the rest of the day.  When star defensive back Ken Stone intercepted Scruggs late in the game, Burger only needed to kneel down a couple of times to preserve the win. 

 

The statistics were one-sided in Kentucky's favor.  Burger rushed for 40 yards on 22 attempts, while Mack Brown (yes, the current Texas coach) rushed for 28 yards on 10 attempts.  Vandy could only manage 78 yards on the ground to go with 126 through the air, while Kentucky found success both ways, rushing for 180 and passing for 164.  The Wildcats ran 87 plays to Vandy's 57.   

 

The Matchups

 

When Vanderbilt Runs The Ball

 

If the field is a quagmire due to rain, then the straight ahead power plays are the ones that will work the best.  Cutting will be difficult due to slippery conditions.   With all the injuries up front, it is going to be tough for the Commodores to run the ball consistently on a sloppy field.  The Commodores could exploit Kentucky's defense with perimeter runs, as defending wide runs is not the strength of the blue and white defense.

 

Cassen Jackson-Garrison will have to come up with another big game this week, since Jared Hawkins and Gaston Miller are not power backs.  Hawkins would be the perfect option if the rain fails to materialize.  His speed and cutting ability would destroy Kentucky's front seven with a dry field.  Alas, the chances of the rain not showing up are quite slim.

 

Chris Nickson could still enjoy a good afternoon, as his scrambling ability shouldn't suffer as much.  Pass rushers who must become run-stoppers won't be able to stop and cut quickly, so Nickson could threaten for another triple-digit rushing game.

 

The magic statistics I estimate for Vanderbilt to have a chance to win the game this week are 34 attempts for 145 yards.  That's if the field is a muddy mess.  If the weatherman goofs, then the Commodores need to run the ball 40 times and gain in the neighborhood of 200 yards.

 

When Kentucky Runs The Ball

 

Kentucky's rushing yardage average is just 89.9 yards per game and 2.9 yards per attempt.  That looks weak at first glance, but let's inspect this a little bit.  First let us factor out quarterback sacks, because Kentucky has a propensity for giving up more than the average team.  Take away the 27 sacks and that average improves to 3.9 per rush and 109 yards per game.

 

Now, factor in that close to half the time that Kentucky runs the ball, they are in short yardage situations.  If it's 3rd and 1, a two yard gain is a success.  If the ball is at the two yard line, two yards is the maximum possible gain.

 

Now factor in one other thing.  Rafael Little practiced this week and is now expected to play some in this game.  Expect Kentucky to rush for more than 100 yards.  Little will also be hampered by a wet field, but with fullback Terrell Bankhead leading interference, Little, Tony Dixon, and Alfonso Smith should find some success running between the tackles.

 

If Kentucky runs the ball 30 times for 120 yards, it will be enough to allow Andre Woodson to have a memorable passing day.

 

 

When Vanderbilt Throws The Ball

 

Chris Nickson's last two weeks have looked more like he has been wearing a number six on his jersey.  Almost 550 yards passing in his last two games is mighty impressive. 

 

If the field is muddy, Nickson could actually benefit.  If it isn't raining too hard, the passing game can exploit the fact that the defense doesn't know when to cut to cover the receivers.  In October of 1961, Houston Oiler quarterback Jackie Lee became the first quarterback in pro football history to top 400 yards passing in a game with 457 yards.  Top receiver Charlie Hennigan topped 230 yards in receptions.  The game in question was played in the rain on a muddy field.

 

The Earl Bennett show should keep the Commodores in business, but I suspect he will be held to single digit receptions and double digit yardage.  Sean Walker, George Smith, Marlon White, and Brad Allen need to keep the heat off Bennett combining for 100 yards once again.  Vanderbilt doesn't need to gain 200 yards through the air in this game.  It will be more important to average better than eight yards per attempt. 

 

When Kentucky Throws The Ball

 

This is how Kentucky's bread is buttered.  Andre Woodson leads the SEC in touchdown passes, and he is near the top in passing yardage.  It's a given that he will throw the ball more than 30 times and pass for more than 200 yards.

 

Vanderbilt needs to force Woodson to throw short and not let Dicky Lyons, Jr. or Keenan Burton burn them with a long gainer.  If they can force Woodson to pass into the short flat and hook zones, the trio of black and gold linebackers can be heroes. 

 

If Woodson completes more than one pass of 25 or more yards in the first half, it will force the Commodores to give too much cushion and allow Woodson to complete several 10-12 yard passes instead of 5-8 yard passes. 

 

Special Teams Play

 

This is always an important statistic, and the Commodores know just how vital special teams can be after last week's loss to Florida.

 

Kentucky is dangerous with their return games.  I doubt Little will be asked to return punts or kicks tomorrow, but Burton is just as dangerous running in the open field.  It would be wise to kick/punt the ball away from him.

 

Defensively, the Wildcats don't get burned when they kick or punt the ball.  The best Vanderbilt can hope for in this game is that special teams won't factor into the outcome.

 

 

The Predictions

 

PiRate: Vanderbilt 28  Kentucky 27

 

Average of 52 Computer Rankings: Kentucky by five points.   Kentucky is the choice by 47 of the computer ratings, while Vanderbilt is the choice of five. The range goes from Kentucky by 18 to Vanderbilt by seven.  The majority of computer ratings pick the Wildcats to win by two to eight points.

 

Vanderbuilder's Guess: My belief until Wednesday was that Vanderbilt would win this game by seven to 10 points.  However, I have come upon two bits of information that has caused me to alter my belief.

 

First, the bad weather should help the better passing team and make inside power plays the best type of run.  Kentucky, with the help of having an extra blocker in the backfield, clearly has the advantage on a sloppy field.

 

Being the numbers' cruncher and data analyzer that I am, I have been analyzing several computer rankings this year.  I have noticed that when a certain six of these are in agreement, the predicted winner wins 95% of the time; when the established point spread is seven points or less, these six computers pick the straight out winner 86% of the time when they all agree, which is incredible.  These six ratings all pick Kentucky to win this week by an average of 6.5 points with a standard deviation of just 1.5.  Hence, I now believe Kentucky will win a close game and gain bowl eligibility.  The Chick-Fil-A Bowl will send a representative to this game, and Kentucky could jump over Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia if they win this game and the UL-Monroe game next week.

 

Vanderbilt has the revenge factor on its side plus the desperation of knowing a loss eliminates them from a bowl for the 24th consecutive season.  Kentucky's players subconsciously know they will beat UL-Monroe next week and become bowl eligible regardless of what happens tomorrow.  However, the Cats also realize they can now move up to a bowl in Memphis, Nashville, or even Atlanta instead of having to settle for Shreveport.  Therefore, these factors cancel each other and shouldn't have any effect on the outcome.  Call it a tough, close win for the Wildcats as they march toward a bowl for the first time since 1999, another year they ruined Vanderbilt's chances for a bowl.


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