Saturday preview: Vanderbilt at Kentucky

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 8:03pm

VANDERBILT (2-7, 1-5) at KENTUCKY (5-5, 1-5)

11:21 a.m. (CST), Saturday

Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.

TV: SEC TV (Comcast, Ch. 14) Radio: WRQQ-FM 97.1

About the Commodores:

• With the running back corps getting thinner with each passing week, they will have to move the ball through the air. But they have struggled to do that, ranking last in the SEC and 115th in the FBS in passing offense. Vanderbilt averages just 5.6 yards a pass play and 135.1 passing yards a game.

• Their third-down conversion percentage ranks dead last among the 120 teams in the FBS. Vanderbilt has converted just 24 of 116 third-down opportunities for a 20.7 percentage.

• On the other side, their defense allows opponents to convert third-down opportunities just 38 percent of the time. But the Commodores have given up 186 first downs, which is the 11th most in the SEC.

• They are missing that all-around athlete who can do a little bit of everything. Warren Norman fit the bill until he suffered a season-ending wrist injury two weeks ago. Last year’s SEC Freshman of the Year had 1,127 all-purpose yards, including 558 kick return yards and 459 rushing yards.

About the Wildcats:

They have one of the stingiest pass defenses in the FBS. Kentucky allows just 165.4 passing yards a game, which is second in the SEC and 10th in the nation.

• They have converted 60 of 135 third downs for a 44.4 percentage. They have also had a ton of success going for it on fourth down, making 14 of 21 attempts. Their 14 fourth down conversions are the most in the SEC.

• Kentucky has 224 first downs – the second most in the conference – and 125 have come via the pass.

• Do-it-all athlete Randall Cobb leads the country with 1,768 all-purpose yards. He has 783 receiving yards, 601 kick return yards, 206 rushing yards and 178 punt return yards. Plus, he has completed four passes for 51 yards and three touchdowns.

Something to consider:

This will be the 83rd meeting between the two teams. Vanderbilt has played only Tennessee (102) and Mississippi (84) more.

• Kentucky has won five of its last six against Vanderbilt. The Commodores’ last win came in 2008 as they became bowl eligible with a 31-24 victory.

• With a win, the Wildcats will become bowl eligible. Kentucky has reached a bowl the last four seasons, picking up three wins in those games. During that span, the Wildcats have played in the Music City Bowl in Nashville three times.

• Both first-year head coaches were rewarded for their loyalty. Kentucky’s Joker Phillips took the job in January after Rich Brooks retired. Phillips had been named the Wildcats’ coach-in-waiting in 2008 and was an assistant for the Wildcats for 16 years in two different stints. Vanderbilt’s Robbie Caldwell took the job in July after Bobby Johnson abruptly retired. He was an assistant for the Commodores since 2002.

Prediction:

Kentucky has been without running back Derrick Locke for the last four games. But Locke said earlier this week that his shoulder felt better and that he would play. If he indeed takes the field, the Wildcats will have yet another weapon offensively. Cobb gives defenses all sorts of headaches and quarterback Mike Hartline has thrown for 2,674 yards and 21 touchdowns, the most in the SEC.

Plus, the Wildcats’ passing defense doesn’t yield many yards. Their rushing defense ranks 11th in the SEC but Vanderbilt is running out of options at running back. Senior Kennard Reeves will most likely start for the injured Wesley Tate. Reeves has just 26 carries this season and Micah Powell, a former linebacker, and defensive back Eric Samuels could join him in the backfield. 

That means Vanderbilt might have to pass more, and all season the Commodores have struggled to move the ball through the air with any consistency. This has led to a league-high 72 punts and a very tired defense.

Kentucky 31, Vanderbilt 10