By Ethan Levine
UK’s rushing attack vs. UK’s quarterbacks
Kind of an odd matchup, I know. Not only do both parties play on the same team, but both play on the same side of the ball.
The UK rushing attack, led by running backs Jonathan George and Raymond Sanders, has been a strong-suit for the offense in recent weeks. The Cats have rushed for 307 yards the last two weeks, including 206 two weeks ago against Georgia. Sanders and George have combined for 785 yards out of the UK backfield and have led a stagnant offense searching for an identity for much of the season.
But many fans don’t want the offense to take on the run as its identity. With freshmen quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, fans crave the excitement and big plays that were expected out of UK’s recent recruits. Towles has been in and out of the lineup with an ankle injury, and Whitlow has been an inconsistent passer at best. But fans want to think the Cats can throw 11 yards on third-and-ten. So far this season, they have rarely proven the ability to do so.
Both Towles and Whitlow will get another opportunity Saturday to prove they can lead the offense, but against a Vanderbilt defense that is 21st in the nation in points allowed, it may be tough sledding once again for UK’s freshmen.
Edge: Run game. Even with the heat beneath head coach Joker Phillips’ throne atop the program at an all-time high, he has shown he has no intention of spicing up his offense. The Cats have tried to implement a handful of trick plays on offense in recent weeks, but the results have been disappointing. Against a stout Vanderbilt defense, Phillips will likely stick with the run game and safe, low-risk screen passes and hope for the best.
Overall Edge: Vanderbilt. The Commodores will be UK’s final SEC home game of the season, and the Cats’ seniors will be going into the game inspired to finally win the team’s first conference game. Unfortunately for the Cats, those inspired seniors will be vastly outnumbered by inexperienced freshmen. Vanderbilt has also been a team that moves by running the ball, and stopping the run will be a top priority for the UK defense. But as quarterback Jordan Rodgers showed in last year’s 38-8 shellacking, he is more than capable of carrying the offense himself. Expect Vanderbilt to do to UK what every other SEC team has done this season: win, and win convincingly. Final score: Vanderbilt 28, UK 10.