The Kentucky Wildcats will play host to the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday, as both teams seek their first SEC win of 2014. Vanderbilt has won the last two meetings between these two programs, but the Cats own the advantage in the all-time series.

Here are five Commodores every Wildcats fan should know about before Saturday’s action:

  1. Ralph Webb (RB): Webb is only a freshman, but he’s already established himself as the best player in Vanderbilt’s offense. He’s rushed for 378 yards in four games, good for fifth-best in the SEC, and is averaging better than 4,9 yards per carry this year. Webb has done all of this without any significant pass attack to keep defenses honest, and he often faces stacked boxes on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Nevertheless, he’s relied on his explosive abilities and lower body strength to make something out of nothing time and time again, and when Webb is in a groove, the Commodores can be tough to stop on offense.
  2. Patton Robinette/Wade Freebeck (QB): It wasn’t until the third week of the season that Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason finally settled on Robinette as his starting quarterback after he led the ‘Dores to their only win of the year over a woeful UMass squad. So, of course, Robinette went down with an injury one week later against South Carolina, forcing Mason to remove him from the lineup in favor of Freebeck, who is a true freshman with little game experience. Robinette suffered a concussion against the Gamecocks, and is questionable for this week’s game in Lexington, forcing the Cats to prepare for two quarterbacks instead of one. Mason listed Robinette as his starter on this week’s depth chart, but with matters regarding a concussion the medical staff has all the power over Robinette’s return, not Mason. Robinette is the best true passer on the team, but also has a tendency to grow uncomfortable in the pocket (the concussion won’t help that tendency). Freebeck, meanwhile, has a huge arm but is not savvy enough to pick apart an SEC defense the way Robinette can. It will be interesting to see who plays at quarterback and how much, but as long as UK executes its own gameplan it should maintain an advantage on defense.
  3. C.J. Duncan (WR): Duncan has only pulled in seven receptions so far this season, but when he is able to get his hands on the ball, he usually makes it count. The freshman wideout has racked up 138 yards and a touchdown through four games, averaging better than 19 yards per reception. Duncan is the Commodores’ best big play threat through the air, and no one else on the team can stretch the field the way he can. The Cats can live with shallow passes all game, but they cannot afford to let Duncan beat them deep for an easy score. The mere threat Duncan presents adds value to a Vanderbilt offense seeking more explosive playmakers.
  4. Darrius Sims (DB): Sims’ natural position is defensive back, but he’s made his greatest impact this season as a kickoff and punt returner for the Commodores’ special teams. Sims returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last week against South Carolina, and Vanderbilt nearly upset the top 15 Gamecocks as a result. His top-flight abilities as a returner could be the great equalizer for a Vanderbilt team still aiming to establish Mason’s identity on the field, and if he is able to break another return against Kentucky, it could swing momentum in Vanderbilt’s favor. The Wildcats’ may be better off trying to boot every kickoff out of the end zone for a touchback and every punt out of bounds, eliminating the threat of a big return.
  5. Nigel Bowden (LB): Bowden leads the Commodores with 27 tackles on the year, and is the heart and soul of Vandy’s defense on the field. Like most middle linebackers, Bowden is responsible for far more than just himself in the middle of the defense, as he must react to the offense and ensure the rest of his teammates know their roles on a given play. He can stop the run, rush the passer and cover opposing backs or tight ends depending on where he’s needed, and that versatility is critical for the Commodores. Mason was known for his vaunted defenses when he served as defensive coordinator at Stanford, and Bowden is the linchpin in helping the Commodores’ transition to the new schemes. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles must remain aware of Bowden’s whereabouts at all times or risk being burned by the ‘Dores.