With due apologies to the cliche-haters out there, it appears as though the 2018 SEC football season is officially, as the TV promos say, “heating up.”
Just ask Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason. Mason nearly got into an on-field scrap with Florida coach Dan Mullen during the Gators’ dramatic come-from-behind win over the Commodores last weekend.
The altercation – which brought both teams off the bench as tensions sparked to a fever pitch – occurred after a Florida player was ejected for targeting thanks to a vicious, illegal whack to the helmet area on one of Mason’s kids.
Vegas point spreads on Vandy are almost uniformly at double-digits with the opposing Kentucky Wildcats hosting this Saturday night.
Who: Vanderbilt Commodores at Kentucky Wildcats
When: Saturday, October 20th, 7:30 PM EST
Where: Kroger Field, Lexington, KY
Lines: Vandy (+11) at KY (-11) / O/U Total: (48)
Kentucky football is for real, and if this keeps up, the place may be no longer strictly a basketball state.
At 5-1, and 3-1 in SEC play, Mark Stoops’ team is very much alive in the SEC East. But the last time we saw the Wildcats was the week in which they took their first loss, a road overtime defeat at Texas A&M.
The Wildcats’ Miles Butler missed a 43-yard go-ahead field goal in overtime, before the defense surrendered a rushing touchdown to end the game. Despite the loss, with Georgia dropping a game to LSU last week, the Wildcats are still in solid position, and fresh optimism is sweeping across the bluegrass.
Kentucky played their game against A&M. UK has won with defense, and the Wildcats held the Aggie offense to just 14 points in regulation. The real problem was Kentucky’s inability to get the running game going. Junior Benny Snell Jr. entered the scrum 4th in the nation in rushing yards, yet he only totaled 60 yards on the ground.
Strangely, play-callers handed Snell Jr. the ball only 13 times, by far his lowest carry total on the season – QB Terry Wilson carried 14 times for 4 yards in comparison (yikes). Kentucky should look to get Snell going again this week against Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt’s record doesn’t seem to indicate how well they have played at times this season. Now in Derek Mason’s 5th year at Vandy, they sit at just 3-4, winless in the SEC, and it’s time to turn a solid on-field product into wins.
That scenario can lead to tensions on the field. More on Mason’s near-scrap with Joey, er, Dan Mullen:
The confrontation occurred near the Florida sideline around injured Vanderbilt defensive lineman Dare Odeyingbo, who lay on the turf after an illegal peel-back block knocked off his helmet and drew a targeting penalty on Florida linebacker James Houston. As Mason and defensive line coach C.J. Ah You stood over Odeyingbo, they got into a shouting match with Mullen and Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Mullen had to be restrained by an official and an assistant coach.
Mason turned to walk away when his team ran onto the field, led by defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo, the younger brother of the injured player. Florida players then spilled onto the field as Dare Odeyingbo was still on the turf. Both teams were kept apart by coaches and officials, and a brawl was avoided. Houston and Florida linebacker Vosean Joseph were ejected, and both teams were issued unsportsmanlike penalties. Joseph was disqualified because it was his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game. “That was just a matter of a (Vanderbilt) player is down and their player from the sideline said something directed at me and I say something back and Dan gets mad,” Mason said. “That’s how it started.”
On a pure football level, the Commodores at one point held a 21-7 lead before losing 37-27. Not good. Earlier this season, in another loss, they took now #4 Notre Dame down to the wire, losing 22-17. But again, there’s a lack of getting over the hump that could grow into an epidemic over the course of a season.
Of course, a team need not win straight-up to cover a spread.
Some analysts saw QB Kyle Shurmur as a legitimate NFL prospect entering the year, but he’s completing only 58.7% of his passes and has thrown only 11 touchdowns. If the passer ever blossoms, he could be the missing ingredient that the program needs. But if he continues to under-achieve then it’ll be an uphill battle in the SEC.
The most significant trend attached to this contest is that Vanderbilt loses close games. The Commodores would have covered an 11-point spread vs Florida, or Notre Dame (in fact they did cover in both upset bids). There is no reason to believe they can’t play within 10 points of a cautious, defense-oriented UK contender.
Also, I’m liking the under as (48) is not quite as low as it should be considering the 2 defenses.