Position-by-position edge: Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Kentucky and Vanderbilt have a lot of similarities, starting in the backfield and on the sideline. All of that is reflected in the Vegas line, which is a field goal spread. Vanderbilt has controlled the series recently, winning four of the past five, but not many of those were as evenly matched as this one appears.
When Vanderbilt has the ball
Kyle Shurmur vs. Kentucky pass defense: Shurmur was knocked out of last week’s game with an eye injury, but is expected to play with a shield. Shurmur piloted the Commodores to a 21-17 win last year, and this year has completed 51.5 percent of his passes for 696 yards, three TDs and three interceptions. Kentucky is the worst SEC team in pass defense, and tied for last in touchdowns allowed through the air with 11.
Ralph Webb vs. Kentucky run defense: This tilts heavily toward Webb, the SEC’s leading rusher with 582 yards, against the 12th-ranked run defense. But the Wildcats have improved the past two weeks against Alabama and South Carolina, at just a combined 264 rushing yards. That translated to two rushing TDs in the past two games, compared to eight in the first three games. Look for the same recipe as last season when Webb had 33 carries for 113 yards in the Vanderbilt win.
C.J. Duncan/Kalija Lipscomb vs. Kentucky pass defense: Like other aspects of Kentucky’s defense, the Wildcats have improved recently, though nine TDs allowed in the first three games makes that manageable. The Wildcats are fourth in the league with six interceptions, and fifth in passes defended with 26. Lipscomb and Duncan have combined for 26 catches, but just two touchdowns, while Webb has the third-most catches on the team.
When Kentucky has the ball09
Stephen Johnson vs. Vanderbilt pass defense: Johnson’s third start shapes up to be better than last week’s horrendous outing when he was sacked four times and lost two fumbles with just 89 passing yards. Look for numbers more like what he did two weeks ago against South Carolina when he was 11-for-19 for 135 yards. For Vanderbilt, except for the Western Kentucky game, the pass defense has held opponents under 200 yards. That leaves the Commodores at 12th in the league, but they should be able to keep Johnson in check.
Stanley “Boom” Williams/Benjamin Snell Jr./Jojo Kemp vs. Vanderbilt run defense: Not surprisingly, Georgia Tech had the most success running the ball against the Commodores, but WKU also ran for 200 yards and two scores. The Wildcats’ three-man attack has nine TDs, and they’re averaging 164 yards on the ground per game as a group. The trouble for Vanderbilt is any one of the three is capable of a big game on their own.
Garrett Johnson/Jeff Badet/C.J. Conrad vs. Vanderbilt pass defense: In conference play, the Wildcats don’t have much to show through the air. All three have each been shutout in an SEC game, but Johnson’s 17 catches are as many as Badet and Conrad have together. Vanderbilt will need the kind of performance it got against South Carolina and Florida to prevent big plays. It allowed just 187 and 144 yards in those games.
Kentucky’s Charles Walker leads the SEC in average punt return, and is second in total yards. He’s also one of just two players with a punt return for a touchdown. Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims is fourth in the league with more than 24 yards per kickoff return, but he leads the lead in total yards. Vanderbilt’s Tommy Openshaw, meanwhile, is 5-for-6 on field goal attempts.