Vanderbilt's hopes of bowl eligibility on line vs. Kentucky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Vanderbilt Commodores can count. With three games left and only three wins this season, Saturday's game against Kentucky is crucial.
A loss ends their hopes of getting six wins and becoming bowl eligible.
''We talked about it,'' Vanderbilt linebacker Darreon Herring said. ''We are only guaranteed three more games, but we are trying to make it a guaranteed fourth. We are focusing on Kentucky this week, but at the end of the day it is in the back of our minds that we need to win out to go to a bowl game this year.''
That starts Saturday when Kentucky (4-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) visits Vanderbilt (3-6, 1-4) for a showdown of teams at the bottom of the Eastern Division.
Both teams must generate more offense that they've been getting. Kentucky was held to a season-low in points and total yards with 180 in last week's 27-3 loss at Georgia. Patrick Towles, who was 8 of 21 for 96 yards with two interceptions in that loss, could lose his starting job. Backup Drew Barker has never started a game and has thrown only 11 career passes.
Vanderbilt was limited to a season low for the third straight game after managing just 175 total yards in last week's 9-7 loss at No. 11 Florida. Vanderbilt has averaged just 6.8 points and scored only three touchdowns in its last four games.
Johnny McCrary completed only three passes for 30 yards against Florida. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has freshman Kyle Shurmur available after missing the Gators game with a concussion.
The key could be Vanderbilt's defense where the Commodores are tied for 12th nationally with Florida State in scoring defense, allowing 17.4 points per game. The Commodores rank 19th nationally in total defense, allowing 316.1 yards per game.
''I'm impressed with some of their outside backers in particular,'' Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. ''Very good looking guys that are long and athletic and play extremely hard. . Coach Mason has done a great job. You can see the passion and energy on their team and in their defense in particular.''
Here are some things to know before the Wildcats visit Vanderbilt:
NOT AGAIN: The Wildcats are trying to avoid a repeat of last season when they lost their last six games to finish 5-7. Kentucky started 4-1 again this year but has lost the last four. Their last three losses came by an average margin of 27 points.
STOP THE RUN: Kentucky allowed a season-high 300 yards rushing to Georgia and has yielded 902 combined during this slide. The Wildcats must slow down Vandy running back Ralph Webb who had 118 yards on 22 carries against Florida and is averaging 105.3 rushing yards in the last three games.
BOOM IS BACK: Kentucky running back Stanley ''Boom'' Williams is expected to return to the lineup after suffering a left elbow injury against Tennessee on Halloween that kept him out at Georgia. Williams leads Kentucky with 563 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
BOWL POSSIBILITIES: Kentucky's last bowl appearance came after the 2010 season in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Vanderbilt snapped a streak of three straight bowls in Mason's first season in 2014. The Commodores host Texas A&M (6-3) and then finish the regular season at Tennessee (5-4).
LOCAL CONNECTION: Kentucky senior punter Landon Foster played at Independence High School 28 miles south of Vanderbilt. He has punted 10,047 yards, making him the first Wildcat to break the 10,000 milestone and 10th in SEC history. The Ray Guy Award nominee is averaging 40.3 yards on 45 punts this year.