Kentucky comes off an open date by playing host to a Vanderbilt team that has lost four of its last five games but apparently isn’t lacking any confidence.
Kickoff at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky., for the Southeastern Conference East matchup is 7:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-3 SEC) lost to Florida 37-27 after building an early 21-3 lead. Earlier this season, the Commodores were within a play or two of knocking off Notre Dame in South Bend before losing 22-17.
“The toughest thing we’re tasked with right now is that we’re so close,” Vandy coach Derek Mason said, “and when you’re close sometimes, with the things that are happening to you, you say you’ve got to stay the course.”
They apparently have gained the respect of Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.
“I really have a lot of respect for Derek and what he does and how he coaches, and you see a team that is very hungry that plays very hard,” Stoops said. “Well coached, and they are just looking for that breakthrough.
“They really had a great opportunity to beat Notre Dame, and then they had a great opportunity against Florida, two very, very good football teams. You see what they are capable of, and so Vandy is a good team and they are hungry. They play hard. We’re going to have to play very good football.”
The No. 14 Wildcats (5-1, 3-1 SEC) lost their last outing 20-14 in overtime at Texas A&M, but not only gained four spots in the latest rankings while sitting idle last weekend but now find themselves as one of three SEC East teams with one loss after Georgia’s defeat at LSU.
But Stoops doesn’t want his players thinking about the SEC race at this point.
“With the bye being at the sixth week, right in the middle of the season, we’re going to be one week at a time,” he said. “You know that I’ve said that all year.”
Taking “one game at a time” is hardly a novel approach for a coach to take, but Stoops says his veterans have the background to deal with it.
“Our guys have been around,” Stoops said. “They have experience. They have been through this. They understand what is in front of them and not to look too far ahead.”
The Wildcats will be trying to recoup some of their running game against a Vandy defense that has given up 521 yards rushing to Georgia and Florida its last two outings. Kentucky rushed for only 70 yards in the loss to Texas A&M, with junior Benny Snell held to 60.
Stoops is confident that Snell will bounce back.
“Benny is rock-steady every week,” Stoops said. “You know what you’re going to get, and we need him to have a strong game here this week.”
Mason compared Snell to former Georgia running back Nick Chubb, who rushed for 1,345 yards in leading the Bulldogs to the 2017 SEC title.
“It’s always a combination of size, balance and speed,” Mason said. “You look at backs who are built like that and run the way he runs, it’s hard to bring him down.”
Vandy got some good news this week with the word that running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn is expected to play. Vaughn had a 43-yard run and a 75-yard touchdown reception against Florida last week before leaving with an unspecified injury.
“He is explosive,” Stoops said. “He is extremely fast. He is a guy that, he is just a good player. He really is. He is really fast and explosive.
“Talked to a few people who have played him and they say that as fast as he looks on film he is faster in person. So that means that definitely you can you feel him on the field.”