SEC ball has arrived for Kentucky in week 4. After playing three non-conference home games to begin the season, Mark Stoops and his team will hit the road for the first time this season when the Wildcats hop on a bus and head to Nashville to play in a stadium that looks like a construction site currently. But Kentucky is going to FirstBank Stadium to win a ballgame.
Clark Lea’s team upset the Wildcats in Kroger Field last season as a 17-point underdog. Kentucky is looking to avoid a similar fate this week in the Music City. Let’s take a look at some players who could find themselves in the spotlight on Saturday afternoon.
Homecoming for Ray Davis
Did you know that Kentucky tailback Ray Davis played for Vanderbilt this year? Well, if you haven’t, you’ve simply had your head in the sand this week. I hope you enjoyed the beach.
After an impressive three-game debut for the Wildcats where Davis rushed for 236 yards on 7.1 yards per rush and chipped in nine receptions for 143 yards to go along with five total touchdowns. Through the first three weeks of the season, Davis has looked like one of the best tailbacks in the SEC. That should come as no surprise since Davis rushed for over 1,000 yards at Vandy last season.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt’s run game has had all kinds of issues without Davis this season. Stoops publicly challenged his offensive line this week, and Lea has answered numerous questions about Kentucky’s new RB1 during press conferences. The redshirt senior should see a high usage rate and could have a big day against a Vandy defense that has given up 19 rushes of 10-plus yards through four games.
A better look at Kentucky’s CB3
Jordan Robinson was a surprise transfer portal addition before the 2022 season from Division II Livingston College. The South Carolina native took a redshirt after playing in only four games. The redshirt sophomore missed the first two games this season due to injury before returning to the lineup in Week 3.
In 26 snaps against Akron, Robinson looked the part. But the challenge will be much more difficult this week. Vanderbilt quarterback AJ Swann leads college football in completions of 20-plus air yards (14) and is not afraid to gamble with his big arm. Due to Vandy’s heavy 11 personnel usage, the Wildcats will be forced to play some true nickel. That could require Andru Phillips to slide inside to slot cornerback with Robinson replacing the redshirt junior outside. Look for Vandy to challenge the inexperienced defensive back on Saturday.
The 6-foot-4 corner brings great size to the position, but we could find out quickly how well he can hold up on the perimeter.
Can Kentucky get Dane Key involved?
Lexington (Ky.) Frederick Douglass product Dane Key is off to a sluggish start in 2023. The sophomore has had multiple drops and is having a difficult time getting on the same page as quarterback Devin Leary. The former four-star recruit has only nine receptions on 20 targets. Not much good has happened when Kentucky has gone his way.
That needs to change quickly.
The Wildcats enter the matchup on Saturday with an on-paper advantage. Vanderbilt is starting two freshmen at cornerback and has allowed some massive chunk plays through the air this season. The Commodores have been bad by most receiving metrics. This could be a get-right opportunity for Key and Leary.
If the duo get on the same page, this offense could hit another gear in SEC play. Last season, Key was the most efficient receiver (56.4% success rate) on the roster. Kentucky needs that level of efficiency to return.