In preparation for Saturday’s SEC East matchup between Vanderbilt and Kentucky, Saturday Down South is taking a look at a key element that may decide the outcome between the Commodores and Wildcats.

Vanderbilt’s defense vs. Kentucky’s speed

Kentucky, losers of 17 consecutive games in league play dating back to the 2011 season, is starting to utilize the SEC’s speed model.

It’s only amounted to wins against Tennessee-Martin and Ohio thus far, but running backs Jojo Kemp, Braylon Heard along with two wide receivers — Ryan Timmons and Garrett Johnson — cut from the same mold have shown flashes of game-changing quickness needed to survive in the nation’s most competitive meat grinder.

Saturday’s opponent, Vanderbilt, is well aware of the Wildcats’ prowess on the boundary and their quickstrike capabilities.

“They have enough speed where they can gash you with a quick hit. They did it against Florida,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said this week. “What we have to is make sure we stop the run and defend the pass. If you allow a team like this to be balanced, it’s going to be a long day. You are not stopping anything. All you are doing is chasing the hole.”

Part of Kentucky’s attention to speed has been coach Mark Stoops’ heavy focus on Florida recruiting. One of this year’s impact freshman is Johnson, an Orlando native who has already stepped up as the Wildcats’ secondary option behind Timmons.

Just a three-star, he showcased his talent — and speed — last time out with 60-yard gallop for the game’s first touchdown in Gainesville.

“We thought of all the young wideouts, he was the guy early that we knew was very smooth, very precise, knew the offense, very mature,” Stoops said. “We were very high on him all along. He’s going to be a very good football player.”

Matched up against a Vanderbilt secondary with four new starters, the Wildcats appear to have the edge, but as bad as it has looked at times for the Commodores on that side of the football, Mason’s defense has a noteworthy standout capable of influencing Saturday’s outcome: Caleb Azubike.

Suspended for the opener, Azubike’s dominated in three games since, registering 16 tackles and a team-best four sacks. His pressure against Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles and keeping the football away from the offense’s speedsters is paramount to the Commodores’ chances as a two-touchdown underdog in Lexington.

“They are going to attack us down the seam, they are going to attack us outside,” Mason said. “We just need to look at who we are, structure it, make it easy, play fast and physical and get off the field.”