By Steve Megargee
NASHVILLE, Tenn. —
Senior wide receiver Jordan Matthews has heard the talk that the Commodores might not be ready for Kentucky, even if Vanderbilt would become bowl eligible for a third straight season.
That Vanderbilt will get caught still celebrating its big win over Florida.
Matthews doesn't buy it.
"It's football," Matthews said. "I don't care who it is. It's football, so there's no trap games. It's a football game. Everybody's going to be jacked up to play ... We take that 0-0 stuff to heart. I know being as old as I am a senior, you only got so many left."
It'd be easy for the Commodores (5-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) to overlook Kentucky. Vanderbilt is coming off a 34-17 win at Florida that is the program's first win at Florida since 1945 and also snapped a 22-game skid to the Gators. That win also marked the first time the Commodores have beaten both Georgia and Florida in the same year — ever.
Kentucky (2-7, 0-5) has lost six of its last seven with the Wildcats losing 48-17 to Missouri last week. The Wildcats have settled down with sophomore Jalen Whitlow expected to start his seventh game this season against Vanderbilt, but the Commodores have won the last two in this series.
First-year coach Mark Stoops has been busy trying to replicate at Kentucky the kind of success Franklin has had in rebuilding Vanderbilt. Having the chance to delay the Commodores from becoming bowl eligible is something that Stoops said means nothing to him.
"If that's good for us to stop them from going to a bowl game, I mean, we need the win for us, for our fans, for all the things we're talking about ...," Stoops said. "That's motivation enough for me."
Five things to look for Saturday as the Commodores try to become bowl eligible against Kentucky:
% Protect the QB: The Commodores ran the ball 44 times for 126 yards in the Swamp, trying to help protect redshirt freshman Patton Robinette who had to throw for only 57 yards in the win at Florida. Jerron Seymour has 12 touchdowns rushing, tying him for third in the SEC and seventh nationally. "The fact that we were able to establish the run was big, and we would love to do that for the rest of the year starting this week," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said.
% Offensive Dores: Vanderbilt has scored at least 24 points offensively in 15 straight games, the best streak in school history. The Commodores are doing even better this season where they are the SEC's most improved unit on third downs and inside the opponent's 20. The Dores have scored on 36 of 40 possessions inside the 20 for a 90 percent rate, up from 72 percent at the same point last season. Vanderbilt also is scoring TDs at a higher rate too (30 of 40 for 75 percent). That's up from 14 of 32 for 44 percent through nine games last season. The offense is anchored by offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, who will tie the school record Saturday with his 48th start. He currently is second only to Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, and Johnson has played four positions on the line.
% Protecting the Ball: Vanderbilt has forced 12 turnovers in the past three games. Kentucky has turned it over only seven times, tied for second-fewest in the nation. The Wildcats also have recovered 10 fumbles, putting them first in the SEC and ninth nationally. They also are fourth in turnover margin at plus-4.
% November Success: Before the decade before Franklin arrived on campus, the Commodores went 3-32 in November. Now they have won six straight and are trying for a second straight undefeated November.
% Fill ‘er Up: Franklin has been Vanderbilt's chief marketer since he arrived, and he has been tweeting each day this week reminding people to sell out this game. The Commodores have sold out only their season opener against Mississippi and their upset of Georgia on Oct. 19. Franklin said filling the stadium is a crucial next step for this program. "For us to continue taking the strides we need to take, we have to generate revenue," Franklin said. "The best way to generate revenue is selling out the games on a consistent basis."