Across the (By)Line: Vanderbilt Commodores


Kentucky wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson (1) runs past a defender during the UK vs. Tennessee football game on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Tennessee won 45-42. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

The “Across the (By)Line” series will give Kentucky football fans an in-depth look at their opponent for this week — from the mind of the opposing school’s sports editor. 

This week: Vanderbilt Hustler, Justin Hershey, Vanderbilt

With Kentucky on a three-game SEC skid, what do you find attractive about the matchup that could favor the Commodores?

Hershey: Honestly, I think Kentucky coming in on a losing streak is a worse thing for Vanderbilt. Every team that comes into Nashville is always given a jolt of confidence due to the Commodores’ poor SEC standing, and I fully expect that to be the case this week for Kentucky. The one thing I think Vanderbilt will continue to have in its favor is unpredictability. Currently, Vanderbilt’s usual starting quarterback, Ken Seals, is battling back from injury. That would slate Mike Wright to start his fourth straight game. However, Seals is close to returning and head coach Clark Lea has been pretty confidential about Seals’ status. I expect him to do the same this week as well and if he can delay naming a starter, he can keep Kentucky a bit off guard. Wright is a runner, while Seals is a traditional pocket passer. Kentucky’s defensive game plan will need to be different depending on who starts, and keeping the Wildcats in the dark is certainly an advantage for Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt kept it close against Missouri last week until the last few drives. What went wrong in that fourth quarter?

Hershey: Well, really what went wrong was a Hail Mary completion at the end of the first half that gave the Tigers a halftime advantage, but late in the game it was more of the same issues for Vanderbilt — big plays coupled with turnovers. Missouri was able to tack on a touchdown just after Vanderbilt cut the Tiger lead to three thanks to a huge 73-yard run from Tyler Badie. The big play has hurt the Commodores all season long, and their rushing defense continues to be a problem. On the subsequent possession, Wright tossed an interception that was essentially the nail in the coffin. For a team with little margin for error simply based on talent, those types of big mistakes just won’t result in victories.

What does Vanderbilt have to do to keep up with a Kentucky offense that just put up 42 points and compiled 612 offensive yards?

Hershey: That’s a great question that I’m sure Lea and company are addressing this week, considering the Commodores are surrendering a whopping 36 points and over 450 yards per game to opponents. Oddly enough, however, Vanderbilt has 11 interceptions this season — good for third in the SEC. That’s going to be the key for Vanderbilt to remain in this game. Kentucky is bound to come out hungry to break out of its slump, but if Vanderbilt can capitalize on some turnovers, they could potentially keep things interesting. Will Levis has tossed 10 picks this season, so if the opportunistic Commodore defense can force a couple bad throws, they might be able to hold Kentucky in check. 

We’ve really only seen what quarterback Mike Wright can do for three full games under center this season. What are some of the positives and negatives of his game?

Hershey: Wright has added a refreshing level of explosiveness to the Vanderbilt offense over the past three games. If he starts, which I believe he will, he will continue looking to use his feet to create offense. He tallied two gallops of 65-plus yards that helped Vanderbilt put points on the board. That’s where he can be dynamic. This past weekend, Vanderbilt really expanded its offensive playbook by incorporating more option concepts in the running game. That left Wright to be creative, use fakes and jukes and find better one-on-one matchups with linebackers that he took advantage of. Where Vanderbilt struggles is when it falls behind. If Kentucky jumps on the Commodores early, Wright will need to start throwing, which is not his strong suit. In the short passing game he is accurate, but my feeling is that the staff doesn’t fully trust him to really air it out downfield, which makes the Commodore offense somewhat predictable and low-octane.

With four running backs with at least 200 yards rushing this season, how does that ability to always rotate a fresh body into the backfield play to Vanderbilt’s advantage?

Hershey: I would say that the running game was a big strong suit early in the season, but right now, the group is decimated. Lead back Re’Mahn Davis went down for the year early on with a toe injury, while Rocko Griffin, his backup, has been banged-up of late. Lea said last week that he expects Griffin back this week, but that is yet to be determined. Other than that, Patrick Smith, who is a true freshman, has been really impressive. He has great speed, and when the Commodores get him outside of the tackles, he is dangerous. James Ziglor III is the next tailback in the group, but he is a converted defensive back. This is a very banged-up group, and unless Griffin returns this week, Vanderbilt will be reliant on Wright to create plays on the ground himself.



Will Levis QB — 167-254, 1,848 yards, 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

Wan’Dale Robinson, WR — 71 receptions, 811 yards, six touchdowns

Chris Rodriguez Jr., RB — 157 carries, 918 yards, five touchdowns

DeAndre Square, LB — 65 total tackles, 34 solo, three sacks, one forced fumble


Mike Wright, QB — 48-89, 545 yards, five touchdowns, four interceptions; 59 carries, 286 yards.

Will Sheppard, WR — 36 receptions, 466 yards, three touchdowns

Rocko Griffin, RB — 89 carries, 296 yards, two touchdowns

Ethan Barr, LB — 64 total tackles, 35 solo, two interceptions