Somewhere in Nashville lies a KSR visor that was thrown in complete disgust. Kentucky failed to convert during two, red-zone scoring opportunities and surrendered a cheap score on a trip play. Both scenarios led to an unacceptable 21-17 loss to the 4-8 Commodores. Arguably the low-point of the season, Kentucky’s program simply cannot afford to lose on October 8th. However; make no mistake about it, Derek Mason is a good football coach and won the podium as well as the media contention in Hoover.
Head Coach Derek Mason's Remarks
“As I look at our football team, we have 15 returning starters. Okay? And we have a lot of guys who have played significant or earned significant time, played in the SEC, and we're extremely excited to see this group take the field.”
“Towards the end of the season, when you saw the young occasion for -- or the youthful occasion for a young quarterback by the name of Kyle Shurmur to step on the field and play meaningful football the last few games, that's important. I named Kyle Shurmur the starter. That's where we are. He showed great character and leadership in the offseason. He has been pushed by guys behind them.”
“So we're going to compete in the classroom, on the football field, in the community. That's not going stop. The ball is good, and we plan on making it better. The whole idea of being tough and intelligent, that's who we are, that's what we do, that's what we stand on.”
Interpreting Coach Speak
Derek Mason effectually pushed the Vanderbilt brand by frequently speaking of high academic standards and football expectation. He described the combination of the two as being a “Vanderbilt Man.” In mid-July when recruiting is hot and heavy, this was a well calculated and smart play. The highly energetic and confident coach reaffirmed his starting quarterback decision and tried to dissuade historical, negative connotation of his program. He spoke of his star players as being underrated and how that fit into his team-first mantra. I agree with that assessment on two of his players: RB Ralph Webb and LB Zach Cunningham. Mason not only accepted Vanderbilt’s SEC status, he vehemently promoted his football program and the city of Nashville.
Mason likes his team, and it showed. Throwing out records, expectation, rankings, fan bases, and league status; Vanderbilt’s coach and players were SEC Media Day One’s most impressive collection.
By the Numbers 2015
-- Offense: Averaged 15.2 points and 327 yards per game. The Commodores finished 13th in the SEC Total Offense column.
-- Defense: Gave up 21 points and 351 yards per game. Significant improvement in this phase, it finished 6th in SEC Total Defense.
-- 2015 Record: 4-8
-- 2016 Game Prior to Kentucky: Florida
Past Two Meetings
2014: Kentucky 17, Vanderbilt 7
2015: Vanderbilt 21, Kentucky 17
Best Three Players
-- Running back Ralph Webb’s 2015 numbers include: 1204 rushing yards for an average of 4.2 per carry and scored 5 touchdowns.
Webb’s remarks on his status as a SEC running back, “I think I’m one of the best running backs in the SEC. I also play that way. I don’t see myself any less.”
-- Last fall, linebacker Zach Cunningham considered declaring for the NFL draft. His 15 statistics impress: 103 total tackles, 4.5 QB sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups. Cunningham is a preseason All SEC selection.
On being underrated, Cunningham said, “that isn’t something I really focus on, whether I’m underrated or not.”
-- Star S/LB Oren Banks is a tough, intelligent and highly active football player. Last season he racked up 59 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions.
Asked Banks about his hybrid position, “The Star position is a hybrid outside linebacker and safety position, so I’ll be a little bit closer to the ball and trying to make dynamic plays for the team.”
How UK Beats Vanderbilt
Let’s be honest, last year’s Nashville exhibition can only be described as a catastrophe. The winnable loss limited the Cat’s likelihood of playing postseason football. Revenge is a dangerous word. But if the Cats come out flat during this one, I’d have to question program’s heartbeat. To beat the Dores’, UK must simply execute its game plan in all three phases as well as score touchdowns in the red zone. Vanderbilt is expected to be defensively stout. Offensively, in my opinion RB Ralph Webb is the league’s most underrated player. Slowing his production will be critical. Kyle Shurmur has been named as its starting quarterback. The sophomore has high level arm talent as I feel he could perhaps have a breakthrough season. I understand it’s Media Days. All teams are undefeated as hopes are high. But today, I came away feeling that Vandy will be a much improved team in 2016.