When it comes to the gridiron, Vanderbilt has beaten Kentucky 42 times. The Wildcats have beaten the Commodores 42 times. Saturday’s matchup in Lexington will break the tie, and the betting spread is a fitting -3 in UK’s favor. That means the expected outcome on a neutral field would be a tie.
However, this game will mean more than just the deciding vote in the SEC’s least compelling rivalry. The losing coach is probably getting fired.
For Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, the guillotine could fall hours after a wretched Vanderbilt offense puts up 20+ points to ruin the UK homecoming weekend with a road win. For Derek Mason, a loss to the Wildcats would likely seal his inability to improve from 2015 and put his future in jeopardy once December rolls around. Either way, this week six showdown will be a turning point in at least one program’s history.
Christian D’Andrea: Derek Mason didn’t trust Kyle Shurmur when he had two good eyes. What’s he going to do now that his sophomore quarterback looks like Squints from the Sandlot?
Shurmur’s eye injury last week kept us from seeing if he could pull off an impressive two-minute drill for the second straight week, although it’s even money Mason would have elected to punt on fourth or particularly daunting third downs.
The Vanderbilt coach has to know how important this game is to his future in Nashville. Losing to the Wildcats means a likely three-win season that would seal his fate and flush him from the Commodores’ system after just three years at the helm. If he wants to extend his career as a head coach, he needs to burn the ships behind him and give his team no chance but to come out victorious on the other side.
That means more shots downfield, no running plays on third-and-long, and — for the love of God — no punts from inside the UK 40-yard line.
But is Mason capable of drastic change? His whole mantra has depended on a process that’s delivered a 9-20 record in two plus seasons and only a pair of conference wins. He took charge and dismissed the team’s coordinators after the 2014 season, but hasn’t given many indicators since then. His big shift for 2016 was declaring a starting quarterback during the preseason.
It took him less than one half of football to go back on that decision and insert Wade Freebeck behind center. Vanderbilt didn’t score a single point afterward.
The thing is, the Commodores are talented enough to win this game even without a revelation on the sideline. If WKU Kyle Shurmur comes to play, he and Ralph Webb can do enough to prop up a defense that has held SEC opponents to 13 points per game this season.
It won’t be pretty. It will be the opposite of that, but I think the ‘Dores do it.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 24, Kentucky 23. Derek Mason survives...for now.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Tennessee (+7) over TEXAS A&M. I’m done betting against the Vols. Clearly Butch Jones spent his offseason purchasing horseshoe shaped butt plugs, because I can think of no other reason for this team to be undefeated and ranked in the top 10 right now.
VandyTigerPhD: Even with the cripple fights we’ve had against UK in recent years, it’s hard to believe we’re tied all time against them. Long time history means little in college sports, but short term history certainly does. I expect another cripple fight. We should have won last year, but I expect another horrendous game that will leave none of our fans happy.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 20 - Kentucky 17. A late FG wins it for us. None of us are happy.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: How is UT an underdog? They’ve got the TEAM OF DESTINY (TM) thing going now. My tempting fate last week bit me in the butt, so I’ll instead wuss out and go with Mississippi State (+3) over Auburn. Hardly going out on a limb, but it’s the only other option.
Tom Stephenson: So, in three games against non-Conference USA opponents, Vanderbilt’s offense has scored a whopping 23 points. In four games against non-Will Muschamp offenses, Kentucky’s defense has surrendered 165 points. (Yes, that includes giving up 42 points to New Mexico State. New Mexico State, the team that got booted from the Sun Belt.) You know what this means...
As always, Vanderbilt’s defense will do... something to slow down Kentucky’s offense and the question is whether the offense will do enough to make use of the defense. As anyone who’s taken a high school physics class knows, when an inert object (the Vanderbilt offense) meets a highly movable object (the Kentucky defense), the inert object will not exert any force on the highly movable object and therefore the highly movable object will not, in fact, move. So what can we expect? Sam Loy will punt at least seven times, Tommy Openshaw will miss a field goal wide left (and possibly a kickoff as well), and Vanderbilt now has a one-eyed quarterback to increase the difficulty level even higher. Some people on the internet like Kentucky Sports Radio think that Shurmur will be wearing an eyepatch and I really have no idea where they might have gotten that idea. Anyway, expect bad offense and some defense, and expect Kentucky to come away with a narrow win.
The Pick: Kentucky 17, Vanderbilt 10.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Derek Mason (+10) over UNEMPLOYMENT. Seriously, at this point we know where the season is going and if Vanderbilt doesn’t beat Kentucky, which we don’t think they will, Vanderbilt’s probably going to finish the season 3-9. So why not get this over with? Well, that’s up to David Williams, and while he didn’t get to fire a coach last March thanks to Pitt being dumb, we don’t think it will happen next week. Actually the only way I can see it happening before the end of the season is if we lose to TSU or somebody hangs 70 on us. Also, MISSISSIPPI STATE (+3) over Auburn because do you really have any faith in Gus Malzahn to win a game he’s supposed to?