Vanderbilt Football Three Keys: Kentucky

Three keys Vanderbilt

If we mentioned the date October 19, 2019, would that immediately strike a chord and resonate with any Vanderbilt football fan or observer?

By Matt Zemek

That’s the date of Vanderbilt’s most recent SEC football victory.

VU defeated Missouri, 21-14, in Nashville. That’s the last time Vanderbilt won a conference football game.

The Commodores didn’t win a league game in 2020. They haven’t yet won an SEC game under Clark Lea. If there’s a goal for the remainder of the 2022 season, it is to notch an SEC win. This Saturday’s game against Kentucky does not offer a likely win opportunity, but it certainly offers an attainable game for the Dores.

Kentucky has limped through this season with injuries to quarterback Will Levis, key linebackers and offensive linemen, and now the team’s starting punter, who won’t be able to play after getting hurt when making (as it turned out) a game-saving play in a win over Missouri. There are real things the Dores can do to swipe a win here. Kentucky is a really good team at full strength, but the Wildcats are nowhere near 100-percent capacity as they prepare to host the Dores in Lexington. Let’s look at what VU can do to break through:

1 – Third downs

Third downs take on added importance on a day when Kentucky will be undermanned at punter and will have to throw an emergency punter into its lineup to replace Colin Goodfellow, who injured himself in order to get off a punt in a scramble situation at Missouri. Late in the game with Kentucky clinging to a narrow lead, Goodfellow tracked down an errant snap and was able to launch the punt, but he got clobbered (and a roughing call against Missouri was assessed, which proved to be the biggest call of the game). He’s done for the year. Vanderbilt simply has to have a great day on third-down defense, forcing lots of Kentucky punting situations. Mark Stoops might choose to go for it more than he normally would, given his punting situation. If so, VU will be able to get some fourth-down stops and create unusually good field position. This is the biggest gateway toward a potential Vanderbilt victory.

2 – Confuse Will Levis

Though Kentucky is a mess without Levis (as seen in a 24-14 loss at home to South Carolina), it’s not as though Levis has lit up the scoreboard this season when he has been healthy enough to play. Vanderbilt has to steer Kentucky into predictable passing situations and disguise its coverages to draw errors from Levis. A pick-six and multiple takeaways offer VU the other realistic path to a win. It has to start with defense and then carry through special teams.

3 – Big plays

Vanderbilt is highly unlikely to author 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drives. It will need to land the deep shot, much as Tennessee did. Obviously, VU doesn’t have Tennessee’s offensive personnel, but the point remains the same: Beat Kentucky with the quick strike, not the iron fist in a slugfest. Kentucky likes the slugfest more than the track meet. Vanderbilt certainly needs to control the ball to an extent, thereby keeping the defense fresh, but without huge plays, it’s highly unlikely VU can prevail.

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