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Better Know an SEC Opponent: the Kentucky Wildcats

If we don’t win Saturday, we’re probably not winning an SEC game in 2016.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The School: The University of Kentucky

Record: 2-3 (1-2 in the SEC). Kentucky already did what Vanderbilt couldn’t and beat South Carolina. Turns out you can beat the Gamecocks if you stick with one quarterback, even if he posts a QB rating of 34.7.

Ranking: Unranked in the AP Top 25 and Coaches' Poll. The formulas have UK rated 81st in the Real Time RPI (14 spots behind Western Kentucky) and 78th in Warren Nolan’s power index. That’s two spots behind Vandy, and three spots behind WKU, because even the computers know Vanderbilt shouldn’t have won that game.

Mascot: The Wildcat. Willie, probably?

No, Google says his name is Scratch. You live in the whiskey capital of America and you couldn’t think of a better nickname than Scratch? How about Mash? Still? Beam? Cirrhosis? C’mon.

Location: Lexington, KY. Things Lexington is known for

  1. UK

  2. Horses
  3. End of list

Coach: Making his final appearance for the Kentucky Wildcats, Mark Stoops!

Conference: SEC. It’s nice to have a sister school in terms of caring about football.

All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 42-42-4. One of two SEC schools Vanderbilt doesn’t have a losing record against!

In the Last 10 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 5-5, including one Zac Stacy hollowing-out:

This will never get old.

The Last Time We Saw These Guys: When it comes to Vanderbilt SEC wins under Derek Mason, you can choose between “the one where they forgot to cover Caleb Scott” or “the one where Mizzou’s team was torn apart by racial tensions and the impending departure of its beloved head coach.” This was the former.

In true Mason fashion, the Commodores scored all their points in the first half and then held on to win by the skin of their teeth.

Do They Run the Triple Option?: Mark Stoops has to beat Vanderbilt or face an abrupt revocation of his coaching privileges. Anything is possible.

Is Vandy Favored?: No, but Kentucky is only a three-point favorite, which means these teams are basically equals on a neutral field. That...feels about right.

Most Potent Offensive Threat: Stephen Johnson is...not very good yet, but the Grambling State (!) transfer has led the Wildcats to a 2-1 record since taking over for Drew Barker. Barker had a 50% completion rate and a 4:5 TD:INT ratio. Johnson stands at 63.6 and 3:1. Johnson can also pull the ball down and run, which has historically been a problem for Mason’s defenses at Vanderbilt. The Commodores should be able to handle him, but they also should have been able to handle the best QBs Conference-USA could throw at him, so...

Most Potent Defensive Threat: Sophomore Jordan Jones has been a do-everything monster at linebacker, providing help as a pass rusher and solid aerial support. He does all the things Nigel Bowden does, which means we’ll hear his number called often on Saturday.

Matchup to Watch: Kyle Shurmur versus his own depth perception. The sophomore quarterback left last week’s game against Florida with an eye injury, robbing him of the chance to run another game-tying two-minute drill. He’ll return to the field this week, equipped with a visor. Shurmur completed just nine of 25 passes last week before getting his vision jacked up, so it’ll be worth following to see if he can improve his accuracy despite some wonky eyes.

Interesting Fact: Lexington, KY used to be my go-to excuse for blowing people off. “Sorry I couldn’t help you move last weekend, I had to go to Lexington with my cousin to visit the school.” “I missed your baby’s Christening because I had to be in Lexington for work.” No one ever questioned it, because who would ever make up a story about going to the nation’s most nondescript city?

If Kentucky wins, we: pretend nuclear holocaust is imminent, hide Derek Mason in a fallout shelter, and keep him there until Vanderbilt writes him off an hires a new head coach that says nothing about “the process.”