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Season preview: Vanderbilt has playmakers on offense

Kentucky linebacker Boogie Watson will be hoping for more sacks against Vanderbilt this season. (Vicky Graff Photo)

Editor’s note: This is the 10th of a 12-part series on each of Kentucky’s 12 opponents this season. 

By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today

GAME 10: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Saturday, Nov. 16, TBA

LAST YEAR: Kentucky 14, Vanderbilt 7.

COACH: Derek Mason, sixth season. Record at school: 24-38. 

LOOKING BACK: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has guided the Commodores to two bowl games in the past three seasons and three consecutive wins over rival Tennessee, which pushed the Commodores into the Texas Bowl, which resulted in a 45-38 loss to Baylor. The season started off with five losses in the first eight games, including a 14-7 setback to Kentucky, but the Commodores regrouped and won three of their final five games of the year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Vanderbilt’s biggest task is replacing quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who threw for a school record 8.865 yards and 64 touchdowns in his career. The leading candidates to replace Shurmur include Ball State graduate transfer Riley Neal and Deuce Wallace. Neal had a solid career at Ball State and threw for 7,393 yards in his career. Although filing Shurmur’s shoes will be the biggest issue on offense, running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn is back after averaging 7.9 yards per carry last year. He had 10 carries that went for more than 40-yards and is a threat anytime he touches the ball. Wide receiver Kalijah Lipscomb also is a returnee, which gives the Neal or Wallace a solid option in the passing game. Tight end Jared Pinkey also is a threat to catch the ball at any given time in addition to his blocking duties.

The Commodores’ defense also is a worry, considering just four starters return from a year ago. Mason has added a host of graduate and junior college transfers to help fill the void on defense and give his squad some experienced veterans.

Mason said he will be looking for leadership at the quarterback slot.

We got talent at quarterback,” he said. “But the starting quarterback’s going to be the guy who can win over this team. The reality is, okay, he’s got enough playmakers around him, okay, we got enough depth offensively in the skill positions where this guy has to be a great skill quarterback but he’s got to be a game manager who guys believe in. He’s got to have those leadership qualities that can take us down the field and put us in the end zone when needed and necessary. That’s what I’m looking for.”

CONFERENCE: The Commodores are projected to finish seventh in SEC East.

COACH QUOTE:  We’re excited for the opportunities this season brings. The Commodores will have its hands full with the challenging home opener against the Georgia Bulldogs. Nashville’s a hot city right now. Vanderbilt football, much like the city, is constantly evolving to be better. We are focused on all of our areas and all of the areas in our program for success for 2019. … our team success will be determined by the performance of our offensive and defensive fronts. I believe we’re better on both sides of the ball, but it’s time for the offensive line, defensive line and linebacking corps to help carry this ball club in 2019.”

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