For this year's game by game preview, we'll look at the regular season in semi-chronological sections. UK starts with three straight non-conference games, hits Florida and Ole Miss, then slides into a crucial three game homestand against beatable conference foes. After a trip to Starkville, Charleston Southern and Vandy visit. Then, of course, the Cats close out the year in Knoxville. We'll start with a look at the non-conference schedule, including the late season game.
On September 4, at 3:30pm the Cats take on what should be a slightly overmatched Louisville squad at a recently expanded Papa John's Stadium. Two years ago we walked into the pizza bowl and rode a surging defense to an easy 27-2 victory. Last year was a different story, when the homestanding Cats needed a Whodini act by Randall Cobb, a 100 Yard KO return by Derrick Locke and a serious miscue on a kick return to hold off the Cards 31-27.
The 2009 game had a pall over it which will continue this year; if the Cats are going to go bowling, they cannot afford to lose the game. The Cards are too weak, and there aren't enough other wins on the schedule.
Former 1000 yard rusher Victor Anderson missed the end of last season with a broken clavicle and is listed behind Bilal Powell on the Cards' depth chart. On the plus side, the Cards return four starters on the offensive line and have a weapon in senior mighty mite WR Doug Beamont. It is not yet clear who will be under center, but Adam Froman, a 6-4 senior, is your leader in the clubhouse.
The Cards defense returns little from a unit that simply wasn't very good.
I'd look for this game to be high scoring. U of L should come out with guns blazing and will be testing an inexperienced UK linebacking crew. By the same token, I'd be shocked if the Cards can contain Cobb, Locke and Chris Matthews. We are on the road, but we will have a better squad. In the end Kentucky spoils Charlie Strong's debut 34-21.
On September 11th, WKU comes to town. The game will be televised on College Sports South at 7:30pm. I have a soft spot for the Hilltoppers. Many friends either went there or have children going there. Western has a strong Henry Clay connection with WR Clark Jeter, LB Mike Federspiel and FB Rod Johnson all on the squad. Western will come into this game fresh off a trip to Nebraska, playing "the" Nebraska, so I think they'll know what to expect in this game and not be overwhelmed. That said, WKU is still looking for its footing in Division 1A and is one of its worst programs, not having won a game last year. If this game is competitive, then the Cats are in deep trouble for the rest of the year. UK 31-WKU 7.
UK isn't going to strain itself much in the early going. Akron visits on September 18th. The game will be at 7:00pm and televised on Fox Sports South. Akron was a 3-9 MAC team last year, finishing ahead of only Miami (OH) in the MAC east. The Zips return starting QB Patrick Nicely, as well as their two leading rushers. Nicely is not much of a running threat (42 carries for 46 years, 0TD in 2009) which is always nice to hear if you are a Cats fans in a game like this. Still, I see the Zips being more game than the 'Toppers, and other than Louisville, this is the non-conference game I'm most concerned with. UK 35 Akron 21.
The Cats final game outside the SEC comes November 6th at home against FCS foe Charleston Southern. To give you an idea, Charleston Southern plays in a stadium without a field house with locker rooms so far away that occasionally opposing teams will sit under a tent at halftime instead of returning. Again, there is no reason to think this game will be competitive. It will be important, though, as it begins and end of season stretch that includes a home game against Vandy and ends at Tennessee. The Cats need to play hard, get the starters off the field and win convincingly. UK 42 CSU 3.
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