Pre-Snap Read: Kentucky

Nov. 10, 2017

By Zac Ellis

Previewing Saturday’s game between Vanderbilt and Kentucky (3 p.m. CT on SEC Network):

History Lesson: Kentucky and Vanderbilt have split the last 10 meetings, with the 2016 matchup going to the Wildcats, 20-13, in Lexington. The all-time series is nearly as even: Kentucky holds a slim 43-42-4 lead.

Names to Watch (Kentucky)
QB Stephen Johnson
Johnson completed just 10-24 passes for 49 yards against Vanderbilt last season. Now the senior is a more seasoned veteran. An improved Johnson has thrown for 1,605 yards and completed 61.7 percent of his passes in helping Kentucky to a 6-3 start.

RB Benny Snell Jr.
In 2016, Snell broke six Kentucky freshman records despite not having a carry in the season’s first two games. This fall, the sophomore has more rushing yards (897) than any player in the SEC and has rushed for 356 yards and six touchdowns in his last two games. With 103 more yards, Snell will become the first Kentucky player to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

S Mike Edwards
Edwards is an elite playmaker within Kentucky’s secondary. He leads the Wildcats in tackles (75) and notched double-digit tackles in his last four games. The junior is tied for second in the SEC with three interceptions, and he’s added five pass breakups to his name.

PODCAST: Previewing Vanderbilt-Kentucky with Wildcats beat writer Derek Terry

The Statistical
Vanderbilt’s average passing yards per game in 2017. Behind a rejuvenated Kyle Shurmur (1,884 yards, 20 touchdowns, three interceptions), the Commodores average the most passing yards as a team since 2013. That number ranks fifth in the SEC. Meanwhile, Kentucky is tied for 10th in the SEC in passing defense, giving up 7.7 yards per attempt.

Tackles for loss for Vanderbilt in last week’s 31-17 win over Western Kentucky. That was a season-high for the Commodores, who also reeled off six sacks. Linebacker Charles Wright chipped in two sacks for the Dores to bring his total to an SEC-leading eight on the season.

Tackles for loss amassed by Kentucky defenders Josh Allen and Denzil Ware in 2017. That Wildcats duo is among the most disruptive in the SEC with 18 tackles for loss, 11.5 of which are sacks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Allen, a linebacker, and Ware, a defensive end, are hailed as the “Blitz Bros.” in head coach Mark Stoops’ defense.

ELLIS: WR Sherfield evolving into key playmaker on Vandy's offense

The Big Question: Can Vanderbilt keep running the ball? After struggling on the ground early this season, the Commodore offense has found its groove in that category. The Dores rushed for 174 yards against Western Kentucky and have averaged 156.3 yards on the ground in their last three games, up from the season average of 103.2. Kentucky ranks fifth in the SEC in run defense (128.8 per game allowed, or 3.83 per carry), but Vanderbilt’s offense needs to continue complementing Shurmur on the ground.

Vanderbilt Needs To: Contain Benny Snell Jr. Vanderbilt has faced a number of stellar running backs this season -- with little success. Snell is the kind of back who could give the Commodores a headache if they aren’t disciplined up front. In his last two games against Tennessee and Ole Miss, Snell rushed 55 times and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. The Dores can’t let the sophomore get the best of them on Saturday.

Did You Know? Mark Stoops is 0-2 as a head coach at Vanderbilt Stadium. Vanderbilt topped Kentucky in Stoops’ first season as a head coach in 2013 with a 22-6 win in Nashville. In 2015, the Commodores recorded a pair of goal-line stands in the first half, setting the tone for coach Derek Mason’s second SEC victory at Vanderbilt in a 21-17 win.

He Said It: “We know the best teams are made in November… We’re getting our swagger back. We’re getting back to the team we saw in the first three games.” –Vanderbilt linebacker Charles Wright

Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.


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