Vanderbilt, Kentucky trying to get offenses going
Two struggling offenses meet in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday when Vanderbilt face Kentucky on Saturday.
Three weeks ago, the Wildcats (2-4, 2-4) looked to be on the right track after a 34-7 pounding of Tennessee in Knoxville. But since then, Kentucky has lost by scores of 20-10 (at Missouri) and 14-3 (at home vs. Georgia) and averaged just 3.7 yards per play.
Kentucky’s biggest problem is its passing game. Quarterback Joey Gatewood hit 15 of 25 throws against Georgia, but they went for just 91 yards and he was sacked four times. The previous week, quarterback Terry Wilson (4 of 11, 38 yards, one touchdown) went most of the way.
Wilson, a senior, was out with a wrist injury last week. The school’s official depth chart lists the situation as Wilson “or” Gatewood (in that order) for the Vanderbilt game.
“There is no denying we’ve been falling short in the passing game,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said this week. “I’ve not denied that, the coaches haven’t and the players (haven’t). We need to improve, we need to be more balanced.”
The Wildcats have been outstanding on defense, leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense (19.0) and ranking third in total defense (355.3 yards) while allowing 5.0 yards per play. Inside linebacker Jamin Davis leads the team with 58 tackles (33 solo), adding two interceptions, a pair of break-ups, a sack, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
“Kentucky is a good football team,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said on Tuesday. “We’re going to have to be physical on both sides of the ball. We’re going to have to tackle well.”
In some ways, the Commodores’ offense came to life the last two weeks, gaining 421 yards against Ole Miss, followed by 478 against Mississippi State. It comes as Vanderbilt is finding play-makers for true freshman quarterback Ken Seals. Running back Keyon Henry-Brooks has 368 yards from scrimmage in those two games, and wide receiver Cam Johnson has caught 24 passes for 211 yards in the same span.
The problem last week was the Commodores’ five turnovers — four by Seals — which led to 14 points for Mississippi State. Another turnover on downs led to a Bulldogs field goal.
Throw in a shaky kicking game — Vanderbilt (0-5, 0-5 SEC) is 2 of 6 on field goals this season — and Vanderbilt managed just 38 points the past two weeks even with the improvements.
The problem for Vanderbilt two weeks ago was defense: Ole Miss gashed the Commodores for 641 yards, 54 points and 12.1 yards per pass. But last week, the defense was outstanding, allowing 204 yards to Mississippi State.
The key there was the same as it was in Vanderbilt’s near-miss of an upset at Texas A&M in the season opener, and that is defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo (3.5 sacks this season) and outside linebacker Andre Mintze (two) helping generate a pass rush.
But the Commodores aren’t making plays on the back end, allowing 13 passing touchdowns, 8.1 yards per attempt and just one interception.
Kentucky is a 17-point favorite, and has won the last four meetings in the annual series. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
–Field Level Media