Smiting the Commodores: An Anatomy

It may seem a little dramatic to use the word "smiting" when talking about Vandy, but 100-14. You've heard it all week: it's the aggregate score of the last three years of <choke> Vanderbilt Commodore football dominance over Kentucky. So, yeah,

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Two weeks ago I focused on the body language I wanted to see from Kentucky. I wanted to see if Kentucky had the viscera of a team prepared to walk into The Swamp, bump noses with Florida, and throw the first punch. I wanted to see if Kentucky had the swagger of a team who expected to beat Florida. Put simply, I wanted to know the answer to a question: does Kentucky belong? More specifically, do they believe they belong? Yes. Yes

The most impressive thing to me, now that we're two weeks removed from the Florida game, was that not only did Kentucky expect to beat Florida, they also backed it up when faced with adversity. Saturday against Vandy, they'll face a different kind of adversity. Unlike Florida, Vanderbilt has neither a physical nor a home field competitive advantage. On paper, Kentucky is better at nearly every position. But. This is a young Kentucky team two weeks removed from the most heartbreaking loss many--if not all--of the players have ever experienced. The questions this Vanderbilt game poses are diametrically opposed to the ones asked two weeks ago in Gainesville. 

This week I want to know: is this young Kentucky team mature enough to come out two weeks after a devastating loss and be professional? Look, Kentucky should beat Vanderbilt--they're favored by 16 points--but college football, especially SEC football, is an endurance trial (cliche alert). I want to see if Kentucky will come out, ignore all the praise heaped on them the last two weeks (after a loss) and treat Vanderbilt with the proper amount of respect. If this team looks past Vandy, they will lose. If this team is professional and comes out focused solely on beating Vanderbilt, they'll pummel them.

POWER FACT: the term "pummel" comes from the word "pommel," which is the butt end of a sword. Back in the days when people fought with swords (circa 1984, if my memory of He-Man serves), it was, as you can imagine, impossible to stab someone in close quarters. So, the Knights Templar (if my Da Vinci Code memory serves), led by Prince Adam of Eternia, would take the bottom of their sword handle (or hilt, as you can see below) and smash in the skulls of their enemies (aka anyone who was different + Skeletor, but that guy was a major d!ck).

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Fortunately (or unfortunately--we'll find out which on Saturday), that has already been decided. It's Thursday, week of. No team, especially not a young team, is good enough to show up on Saturdays and win--not consistently. 

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Which brings me to my next question: how good of a coach is Mark Stoops? Listen, I'm not saying this game is a referendum on Stoops's coaching ability. I'm saying this is a good test for a young coach coaching a young team. As I pointed out, whether Kentucky is focused solely on Vanderbilt has already been decided, and that is one hundred percent a reflection of how well this team is coached. Ask yourself how many times has Alabama followed up a big win with another big win under Nick Saban. Now ask yourself how many times Michigan has followed up a big win with another big win under Brady Hoke. See the difference? One team is well-coached and the other is fantastically unreliable. 

In Which He Gets Specific So As Not To Be Confused With Kirk Herbstreit

Okay, fine, it's easy to ask a simple question like is this team mature and wax lyrical about what that means. So, yeah, let's gut this pig.

First and foremost, you should be looking to see if this team can maintain its ferocity on defense. Broken record alert, but I've just never seen a Kentucky defense this athletic, this physical. Do this, this is what I do: count defenders around the football every play like your Pop Warner coach used to. If it's an average of four or more, with one or two more on the way, you're golden. The reason this axiom works is twofold: first, it means you're limiting splash plays (IDC I like it). Second, it means the linebackers are covering a lot of space because for that many defenders to be around the ball, at least one linebacker has to be involved, and LBs making tackles > CBs making tackles. Or, if you'd prefer, LBs making tackles = :-) because that's the whole point of the position. 

Next, and this one is my favorite, take a couple plays and watch the defensive line when Kentucky has the ball. Defensive linemen are assigned certain gaps. Depending on the defense (in a 3-4 some linemen have 2-gap assignments, in a 4-3 it's generally 1 gap) and the scheme, it's generally pretty easy to tell what a defensive lineman is trying to do. If we control the A gap (the open space to the center's immediate right and left between he and the guard), Vandy is going to have a long day. 

Bottom line: if Kentucky comes out and takes care of business (good lord, that's awful) Saturday, I want you to be happy because it's a step. It's forward momentum. I believe Stoops is building something special for this program, and I intend to enjoy every brick (#thingsyoudontsayduringbasketballseason). Nailed it. 

See Also: Lil Bronzie Watch: Week 4