By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — It’s hard to find many positive things to say about a season when a team has lost all five games it’s played while also losing a host of players to injuries and COVID-19 opt-outs. The Vanderbilt Commodores knew it would be rough going facing an all-SEC schedule, and standing at 0-5 as they head to Lexington for a Saturday game against Kentucky, the odds on them pulling out at least one victory don’t look very good. The best thing that can be said is they are identifying some potential stars for the future, and that they’re continuing to play hard and fight till the end.
But even a topflight team can’t survive five turnovers on the road and win, let alone one struggling with a depleted roster and youthful talent at QB. Freshman Ken Seals continues to demonstrate he can eventually become an excellent QB. In last week’s 24-17 loss to Mississippi State he brought Vanderbilt back from a 17-0 deficit to get them within three points. Seals finished completing 31 of 46 passes for 336 yards and one touchdown. He didn’t wilt when the Bulldogs jumped ahead by a large margin, and his poise and competitiveness are impressive.
However the down side remains mistakes. Seals accounted for four of the five turnovers against Mississippi State, with three interceptions and a fumble. The fumble occurred as Vanderbilt was trying to get in position for a possible game-tying field goal. No one puts the loss on Seals’ shoulders, and he’s the primary reason it was even a close game. But he’s got to minimize turnovers for Vanderbilt to have any chance at a victory.
The Commodores also got an excellent effort from running back Keyon Martin, who gained 115 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown. Plus, the defense held the Bulldogs to negative 22 yards rushing. However, they simply were unable to dig themselves out of that early hole, something they want to avoid against a Kentucky team that has a tremendous defense but a woeful offense as demonstrated during their last game two weeks ago, a 14-3 loss to then fifth-rated Georgia.
The Wildcats that game had a different starting QB in Jerry Gatewood, who replaced the injured Terry Wilson. But Kentucky’s weakness remains the lack of a downfield passing game. While Gatewood completed 15 of 25 passes, none was 20 yards or more. His inability to stretch Georgia’s defense was a primary reason why Kentucky could only get one field goal.
But they have a very opportunistic defense, as witness the recent performance against Tennessee. Vanderbilt’s chances for an upset hinge on their defense continuing to play the run as effectively as it did against Mississippi State, and Seals and company not making it easy for the Wildcats with short fields and turnovers.