Coming off of a devastating loss to Tennessee last week, the window has become a bit more narrow for the Kentucky Wildcats’ hopes for a big bowl game.
The Wildcats have a probable win against UT-Martin next week, but still need to pick up a victory over either Vanderbilt or Louisville to go bowling. And while the game against Louisville is at home, winning at Vanderbilt seems more manageable giving their recent performances.
Vanderbilt is coming into the game trying to save coach Derek Mason’s job. At 2-7, the Commodores do not seem headed in the right direction under Mason’s watch. Beating Kentucky would be a signature win for the season, despite the Wildcats’ woes. However, there will be a lot to overcome as Vandy has looked abysmal lately.
The Commodores’ only two wins on the season have come against Northern Illinois and, oddly, Missouri. Otherwise, they have lost every other game by at least 17 points.
Starting quarterback Riley Neal, who transferred from Ball State, will be back on the field after missing the Florida game. Neal had a great game against Purdue early in the year, but has looked pedestrian otherwise. The good news is that he is actually the starting quarterback, so at least to begin the game the Wildcats will not be facing a backup.
Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn was out for last year’s match-up with Kentucky, where Kentucky avoided an upset 14-7. Vaughn is looking to crack 1,000 rushing yards for the season, as he currently sits at 818. And you know he would like to have a big game against the Cats. He is also a big part of their passing attack. So, basically, if you shut down Ke’Shawn Vaughn, you shut down the Vanderbilt offense.
The Wildcats has questions on offense, themselves. While a one dimensional offensive philosophy led them to a relatively dominant performance against Tennessee, winning almost every statistical battle except for points, you have to think Eddie Gran will explore the idea of opening things back up.
In theory, Sawyer Smith is back to 100%. So looking forward to the Louisville game and potential bowl match-up, a balanced offensive attack gives you the biggest chance at victory. While no game can be classified as “easy,” this should be winnable no matter what route Kentucky takes offensively. So will they take this opportunity to try heading back in the direction of Sawyer Smith, or will they stick to their guns and commit to riding Lynn Bowden for the rest of the year?
We will find out Saturday.