The struggling pass defense of Kentucky could be in for another long day when it hits the road to take on Vanderbilt Saturday in the SEC. The Wildcats rank last in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game and must face the Commodores and red-hot quarterback Kyle Shurmur.
The Wildcats surrendered 382 yards and four touchdowns through the air in falling to Mississippi last week, but can avoid their first losing streak of the season by winning their first game in Nashville since 2009. Led by a quartet of juniors, including safety Mike Edwards, the secondary was supposed to be a strength of the Wildcats, but that has not been the case. “Obviously we are not winning enough at this point,” coach Mark Stoops, who has seen his team allow 279 yards per game - 120th among the 129 FBS teams nationally - and 17 passing touchdowns, told the media. “We have to make more competitive plays.” Shurmur, who ranks second in the SEC with 20 touchdown passes, comes in off a pair of games in which he threw for a combined 553 yards and six touchdowns.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network. LINE: Vanderbilt -2.5
ABOUT KENTUCKY (6-3, 3-3 SEC): To keep the ball out of Shurmur’s hands, the Wildcats will need to utilize Benny Snell, Jr. early and often against a suspect Vanderbilt rush defense, which has permitted 211.6 yards per game (115th nationally) and 23 touchdowns on the ground. Snell, a sophomore, is nearing some significant milestones, including needing 108 yards to become the first Kentucky running back to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Last week’s game against Ole Miss was the first time this season that Kentucky lost when Snell received 19 or more carries.
ABOUT VANDERBILT (4-5, 0-5 SEC): While Trent Sherfield, Kalija Lipscomb and C.J. Duncan are his favorite targets, Shurmur has spread the ball around, connecting with nine players for touchdowns. Sherfield and Lipscomb, who have combined to catch nine touchdowns, are the deep threats as each are averaging 16.9 yards per catch while Duncan catches mostly short passes. Ralph Webb leads the Commodores in rushing with 543 yards and six scores.
1. With 103 rushing yards and one touchdown, Snell will join Herschel Walker and Knowshon Moreno of Georgia as the only players in SEC history to have at least 1,000 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in their freshman and sophomore seasons.
2. Webb, who needs 457 yards to notch his third straight 1,000-yard season, is 44 yards shy of passing Florida’s Emmitt Smith for 10th on the SEC all-time rushing list.
3. Thanks to a 20-13 win at home last season, the Wildcats hold a 43-42-4 lead in a series that has seen 36 meetings decided by a touchdown or less.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 34, Kentucky 31