Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Often the cellar dwellers of the SEC, if any two schools have ever played as many ugly football games against each other as UK and Vanderbilt, well, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine. There’s the 12-7 loss in 1993. The 14-13 win in 2004 (on a pass that was such a duck that QB Shane Boyd was lucky it wasn’t shot out of the Commonwealth Stadium sky). 24-13 in 2009 on a game where the most exciting play was a halfback pass. A 17-7 snoozer in 2014, and a 14-7 win last year in which Kentucky passed for 18 yards.
But here’s the thing. Pretty or ugly, Kentucky, 4-5, needs a win. Beat Vanderbilt and only FCS UT-Martin stands between the Wildcats and a fourth consecutive bowl appearance. Lose to Vandy and you’ve got to beat a Louisville team which is at least superior to the Commodores. One thing’s for sure—history tells us it won’t be pretty.
The Commodores have stumbled through a 2-7 season, which culminated in a 34-10 home loss to UNLV. Vandy did upset Missouri the following week, but their 21-14 win lost some steam when it was followed by UK’s 29-7 thumping of the same team.
Coach Derek Mason may be nearing the end of the line in Nashville. Vandy RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn might be the most underutilized player in college football. Vaughn is an All-SEC level talent, although in his last game, Florida held him to 28 yards on 15 carries. For the year, Vaughn has 818 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb was regarded as a top talent, but his receiving numbers are comparable to Lynn Bowden’s, and Bowden spent the last four games at quarterback. Vandy QB Riley Neal has been out with injuries, but he’s expected back for Kentucky.
Defensively, the Commodores have given up 35 points per game. For the season, Vandy gains 296 yards per game and allows 465. Their last game was an embarrassing 56-0 loss at Florida.
But still, there’s always an element of throwing the records out the door when Vandy and Kentucky meet, although in this case, UK would probably like to keep the records.
Kentucky struggled through a difficult 17-13 loss to Tennessee. A missed extra point, some soft pass coverage in the second half, and a few downright peculiar play calls down the stretch left the Cats on the short end of the scoreboard.
The Lynn Bowden experiment will continue, as Sawyer Smith must be severely injured. Freshman back Chris Rodriguez had a good game against the Vols, and he and Kavosiey Smoke might see more carries against Vandy. Kentucky’s defense, a few untimely pass coverage errors aside, was pretty stout.
UK has to win this game, and given Vandy’s massive struggles, it feels likely that the Wildcats find a way. It won’t be pretty, but it’ll count just the same.
Kentucky 17, Vandy 7
Other SEC Predictions
Alabama 38, Mississippi State 24
Florida 41, Missouri 14
Georgia 24, Auburn 13
LSU 42, Ole Miss 17
Texas A&M 28, South Carolina 24
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County and has written eight books. His most recent, "A Fine Team Man: Jackie Robinson and the Lives He Changed," was released in February 2019 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 email@example.com