The Kentucky Wildcats continue their push for a bowl spot as they go on the road this weekend to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in an SEC East battle. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 EST on Saturday, November 16 at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. Fans can catch all of the action on the SEC Network.
Current betting odds list Kentucky as 10-point road favorites. The game also has an over/under of 42 points. Be sure to check out a full list of the Week 12 college football odds.
After winning 10 games last season, the Wildcats are having far more trouble than they expected just qualifying for a bowl game in 2019. Kentucky is just 2-5 in SEC play this year with their only wins coming against Arkansas and Missouri. The Wildcats had a golden opportunity to get another win last week, taking a 13-0 lead at home against rival Tennessee. But the Kentucky offense was shut out in the final three quarters and the Cats lost 17-13.
That loss leaves Kentucky 4-5 overall, needing two more wins to become bowl eligible. The good news for the Wildcats is that they’ll face FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin next week. That should ensure at least a fifth win this season. However, that still means Kentucky will have to either win this week against Vanderbilt or the final week of the season when they host in-state rival Louisville.
As for the Commodores, they saw their bowl hopes go out the door last week when they lost 56-0 to Florida. Vandy has a win over a ranked Missouri that they can hang their hat on, but that’s been the only highlight of their season. At 2-7, the Commodores will be staying home during bowl season for the fourth time in Derek Mason’s six seasons, potentially putting him on the hot seat.
Of course, don’t expect the Commodores to start their offseason early. Over the final three weeks of the season, Vanderbilt will play both Kentucky and Tennessee, two of their biggest rivals. The Commodores will have a chance to make sure both of those teams are also sitting at home during bowl season, so it shouldn’t be difficult for Vandy to find some motivation.
This week, Vandy is also hoping to snap a three-game losing streak against the Wildcats. Kentucky has won four of the last five meetings between these teams, allowing the Cats to take the all-time lead in their series with Vanderbilt. The Commodores don’t have a win in this rivalry since 2015, although they have won three of their last four home games against Kentucky.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Vanderbilt, who always seems to have the deck stacked against them inside the SEC. I expect the Commodores to continue to give their best effort, but I just don’t think they have the players to stay competitive for 60 minutes. Vandy’s seven losses this season have come by an average margin of 27 points, which is enough for me to take Kentucky to cover 10 points.
The good news for Vandy is that starting quarterback Riley Neal has been cleared to return after missing last year’s nightmare against Florida. The problem is that things haven’t gone all that well with Neal playing this season. It was Mo Hasan, who remains sidelined, who sparked the ‘Dores during their win over Missouri. Meanwhile, Neal has completed less than 60% of his passes with just six touchdown passes this season. He’s better than the alternatives on the roster, but not good enough to make me feel optimistic about the Vanderbilt offense.
The only real hope the Commodores have is to ride running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn as much as possible. Vaughn is a great talent, but SEC teams have caught on to the fact that he’s the only player on the Vandy offense who can hurt them. It’s become far too easy for teams to sell out against the run against Vanderbilt, knowing the Commodores can’t hurt them through the air. Moreover, the Kentucky defense has been good against the run in recent weeks. Both Missouri and Tennessee have been held in check on the ground when facing the Kentucky defense.
Of course, it’s fair to question whether the Kentucky offense can play its part in covering the 10-point spread. The Wildcats continue to go with Lynn Bowden at quarterback even though he began the season as a wide receiver. Bowden isn’t much of a passer, which leaves the Kentucky offense somewhat limited. However, the rushing tandem of Bowden and running back Asim Rose makes the Wildcats dangerous on the ground.
Meanwhile, there is the Vanderbilt defense, which is giving up 35 points per game and was ripped to pieces by Florida last week. The effort is undoubtedly there, but the Commodores have struggled to match up physically with SEC teams for 60 minutes. Even if they keep things close in the first half, the Vandy defense tends to fold in the second half of games.
I’ll admit that Kentucky is not an ideal team to take as a 10-point road favorite. But the Wildcats have a good rushing attack and a good enough defense to wear down Vanderbilt and pull away in the second half. Vandy is averaging less than nine points per game over their last five games. That makes me feel comfortable with this pick, knowing that Kentucky may not need to score that many points to cover the 10-point spread.