The Wildcats will come into Nashville to take on the Commodores Saturday with a sense of urgency. The Cats stand at 5-4 right now and a victory of Vanderbilt would make them bowl eligible. With games at Georgia and against Tennessee (who Kentucky hasn't been in over two decades) coming up after Vanderbilt, the Wildcats could be left on the outside of the bowl picture.
Against Eastern Kentucky, the Wildcats rested their two offensive stars, Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. Freshman Morgan Newton took the majority of the snaps at quarterback and had his most productive game of the season, throwing for 187 yards and two touchdowns on 20-29 through the air. The Wildcats also had a productive ground attack with 244 yards behind Moncell Allen's 14 carries and 62 yards.
The quarterback situation is still a bit of a mystery for the Cats. Mike Hartline's knee injury has held him out since the middle of the South Carolina game, but he practiced this week and may be available to get some snaps this weekend. In the meantime, Morgan Newton has been receiving most of the playing time. If Hartline doesn't play, Will Fidler will likely also receive some snaps as will Randall Cobb (in the Wildcat Package).
The Wildcat running backs have been a productive group this season, even though they've been banged up all year. It's likely that four running backs will get carries Saturday morning. Leading rusher, Derrick Locke (125 carries for 630 yards and four touchdowns) will get the majority of the touches. Senior Alfonso Smith and junior Moncell Allen will also get carries from the half-back spot. Senior fullback John Conner will also get carries during short yardage situations.
Receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews are the main threats through the air. Cobb is a do-everything type of player who may line up on the outside, in the slot, in the backfield or at quarterback. Chris Matthews size and speed make him a long ball threat at any time. Freshman LaRod King has developed a chemistry with fellow freshman Morgan Newton and has come on nicely towards the end of the year. Gene McCaskill and Matt Roark will also get playing time and are both capable of making big plays in the passing game.
Kentucky's offensive line will be in tact this weekend. The Wildcats start four seniors on the line and have proven to be one of the better units in the SEC. They open up holes well for the running back, often blowing the defensive line off the ball. They've done a fair job at protecting the quarterback as long as he gets rid of the ball in a timely manner. The Wildcats also play several of their backups throughout the game, rotating to keep the groups fresh.
Kentucky will line up in the I-formation, the shotgun, the Wildcat, and three wide. On rare occasions they will line up with five wide receivers. The wildcats run a pro-style offense and will try to be a close to 50/50 run/pass team, though with the quarterback situation as it is, it's likely they will run the ball more than normal.
Defensively the Wildcats have several talented prospects, however statistically they've underachieved this season. The Wildcats have struggled in stopping the run and have been suceptable to the big play in the passing game on occasion.
Four year starter Corey Peters is the leader of the defensive line (34 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks). Ricky Lumpkin brings experience to the tackle position opposite Peters. At defensive end, the Wildcats are a work in progress, but growth in the unit is visible each week. DeQuin Evans has proved to be a solid prospect who can get a pass rush. He leads the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and is tied with Peters for team lead in sacks. On the other side of the ball, Taylor Wyndham has earned a starting position and is known as an explosive pass rusher. Collins Ukwu and Chandler Burden both have gained experience this season and are expected to contribute as well.
At linebacker, Micah Johnson heads up this group. He's the team's leading tackler this year with 68 total. Danny Trevathan and Sam Maxwell flank Johnson on either side. They are the second and fourth leading tacklers respectively. This is a strong and athletic group, but they struggle in pass coverage. Sam Maxwell is the big play guy of this group. Maxwell has four interceptions this season from his outside linebacker spot. He's also got seven passes broken up and 3.5 tackles for loss.
The Wildcats will welcome back All American corner Trevard Lindley back to the lineup for the second straight game. Opposite Lindley is Paul Warford who's also struggled with injuries this year. Warford is an improving cover corner who excels in run support. Safeties Calvin Harrison and Winston Guy have both been very active. Guy is Kentucky's fifth leading tackler from the free-safety position and is possibly the most athletic player on the Wildcat defense. Calvin Harrison has also been a big play maker this season with two interceptions and is third on the team in tackling this season..
Kentucky lines up in a base 4-3 defense. It's a pretty basic scheme for the most part, not a lot of blitzing. Steve Brown will often leave his corners on an island against receivers. On passing downs, Kentucky brings in nickel back Taiedo Smith and will often move linebacker Danny Trevathan down to defensive end to provide a better pass rush.
Kentucky has struggled on special teams this year. Aside from one long kickoff return by Derrick Locke, kick coverage and kick returning have been average at best. Ryan Tylacka has proved to be a solid replacement for All-SEC punter Tim Masthay (39.7 ypp). Kentucky's blocking has been a problem for their field goal team as well as the punt team. Each group has had kicks blocked this season (field goal against Auburn, punt against Florida. Place kicker Lones Seiber has had a solid senior season making 7 of 11 field goals and 29 of 30 extra points, becoming the Wildcats all-time leading scorer.
The Wildcats have established themselves as more of a blue-collar team. They will rely on the offensive line to open up holes for the backs, but don't be surprised to see a trick play or two thrown into the gameplan. Kentucky has also been fairly effective passing the ball at times while struggling at others. If Newton continues to progress, the Wildcat offense becomes more dangerous. Defensively, Kentucky will play their base defense most of the game with very little blitzing unless they can't get pressure on the quarterback in the basic scheme. They will likely line up to stop the run, but Vandy can hurt the Wildcats if MacKenzie Adams can make plays with his legs.