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November 7, 2011

Vanderbilt finds itself in new position

There's Vanderbilt, and then there's the rest of the Southeastern Conference.

For years, the perception has been that the Commodores lagged well behind the rest of their conference foes. They've been to just one bowl game since 1983, when they went 7-6 in 2008.

But this year, Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5 SEC) has already won as many games as in the last two years combined, and they've pushed several upper-tier opponents to the brink. The Commodores have lost to Georgia, Arkansas and Florida by a combined 13 points in the first year under new head coach James Franklin.

"Vanderbilt is obviously a completely different team than what we've seen in recent years," senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. "They can hurt us in the pass and the run."

Junior tailback Zac Stacy is sixth in the conference with 756 rushing yards this year and is averaging a whopping 6.9 yards per carry.

But the Vanderbilt offense didn't really take off until junior Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, took over midway under center through the season. He's a dual-threat quarterback who passed for 297 yards against Florida, but has also hurt defenses with his legs.

"We've had to face this kind of guy the last four weeks really, a guy that could run the zone read, run some option, get on the perimeter, also a dual guy that can throw the football," Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said. "He probably throws the football better than the other dual guys we've seen. He's definitely a guy you have to be concerned with."

Phillips has gotten to know Franklin over the years. Both were named head-coaches-in-waiting before getting their first coaching job, though Franklin left Maryland to coach the Commodores.

They find themselves in a similar situation again this year. Kentucky (4-5, 1-4 SEC) also needs two more wins to become bowl-eligible, and with dates against Georgia and Tennessee still left, a win on Saturday would be huge. Vanderbilt still has to face Tennessee and Wake Forest after Kentucky.

"Our backs are up against the wall right now," senior tight end Nick Melillo said. "There's no other place for us to go but forward. We either make plays and win games or we're going to be sitting at home during Christmas break (instead of going to a bowl game)."

Smith named SEC freshman of the week

Quarterback Maxwell Smith was named SEC freshman of the week for his performance on Saturday. In his first start, Smith completed 19 of 36 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns to lead Kentucky to a 30-13 win over Ole Miss.

"He stayed levelheaded," Phillips said. "He's a guy that when he steps in the huddle, now you're just watching his confidence, watching him grow."

Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan did not earn SEC defensive player of the week honors despite racking up 17 tackles and an interception, but Phillips joked that he was fine with that.

"I'm glad they did it," Phillips said. "One of the kids was saying this as I was walking by. He was upset because he was taken off (the Butkus Award list). All he's done is had 34 tackles in the last two games, two interceptions, tackles for loss, he's leading our defense the way we expected him to lead it."

LSU safety Eric Reid, who had six tackles and an interception late in the Tigers' 9-6 win over Alabama on Saturday, received SEC defensive player of the week honors. Trevathan, who leads the SEC with 11 tackles, did earn honorable mention honors for his performance.

Injury report

Junior linebacker Ridge Wilson, who injured his shoulder Saturday, has been cleared to play but is still working to recover his range of motion and strength. He's day-to-day.

Defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, who both suffered ankle injuries, are expected to practice Tuesday.

Senior wide receiver Matt Roark sprained his foot and will be held out of practice Tuesday. Junior receiver E.J. Fields suffered a hip pointer and is day-to-day.

Junior quarterback Morgan Newton is "a lot better" this week, Phillips said. He'll be evaluated during practice Tuesday.

Sophomore tailback Raymond Sanders, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain, is expected to practice Tuesday. He was listed alongside the top of the running back depth chart with junior CoShik Williams on Monday.


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