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JOE COX: Kentucky-Vanderbilt Matchup Means Much More This Time for Wildcats

Once the battle of SEC East cellar dwellers, this season’s annual gridiron matchup of the Kentucky Wildcats (5-1, 3-1) and Vanderbilt Commodores (3-4, 0-3) suddenly means much more for the Wildcats. A win over lowly Vandy will elevate the Cats into a three-way tie for first-place in the SEC East. A win over the Commodores will underline the importance of Kentucky’s pending November 4th showdown against the Georgia Bulldogs. A win against Vandy… well, a lot of good things get better with a win over Vandy. But a loss?

Surely not. This isn’t your father’s Kentucky Wildcats. It’s much more like your grandfather’s Wildcats, if he remembers the vaunted glory days under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. The Wildcats have ridden an opportunistic pressure cooker of a defense and a pulvering meat-grinder of a ground game to a 5-1 mark and the No. 14 spot in the AP poll.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt looks like Vanderbilt. Not only are the Commodores 0-3 in the SEC, but they’ve lost those three games by a 115-54 margin. Even South Carolina and Florida—two offenses that Kentucky rendered completely ineffective—gashed the Commodores for 37 points each. Even when Vandy gets things right—like jumping to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter over Florida—they eventually get things wrong, like losing that game 37-27.

But in the words of great philosopher/St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Joaquin Andujar, “You never know.”

Meet Vandy

The Commodores have one of their better quarterbacks since the Jay Cutler era in senior Kyle Shurmur, who has passed for 1,629 yards and 11 touchdowns in the season to date. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who is a bit banged up, has 495 yards and five scores on the ground. Wideout Kalija Lipscomb has been one of the most consistent players in the SEC, with 49 grabs for 560 yards and six touchdowns.

Defensively, the news isn’t as good. Vandy has allowed 424 yards per game, and has particularly struggled against the pass, yielding over 240 yards per game via the air. Linebacker Jordan Griffin has been solid, with 68 tackles. Vandy has 13 sacks in seven games, with linebacker Kenny Hebert leading the team with three.

Vandy’s finest moment was playing close to Notre Dame in a 22-17 loss. They have a more potent offense in the past, but their defense hasn’t been terribly productive.

UK’s Counter

Kentucky will doubtlessly welcome the opportunity to establish QB Terry Wilson, whose struggles in the passing game have limited the UK offense in its last game and a half. Benny Snell is doubtlessly looking forward to a chance to re-establish his All-American credentials off a poor game at A&M and a bye week.

Most of all, Kentucky has to view this game as an opportunity—to wrap up a bowl bid before Halloween, to pull into a tie atop the SEC East, and to remain in the picture as one of the best surprises in college football. If they do that, they’ll be fine.

Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 14

Other SEC Action

The SEC’s other games and my predictions:

Arkansas 38, Tulsa 27

Ole Miss 38, Auburn 35

Alabama 45, Tennessee 3

Missouri 42, Memphis 32

LSU 19, Mississippi State 17

Joe Cox is contributing editor for Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written seven books, with the eighth to come in 2019. His most recent, "The Immaculate Inning," was released in February 2018 and can be ordered on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at

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