Gameday: Keys to Thursday's season opener

September 1, 2011 

Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

Where: Nashville's LP Field

When: 9:15 p.m. (EDT)

TV: ESPNU

Radio: WLAP-AM 630; WBUL-FM 98.1; XM Channel 199; Sirius Premier Package Channel 220

Series: Kentucky leads 2-0

Last meeting: Kentucky won 63-28 on Sept. 11, 2010, in Lexington

2010 records: Kentucky 6-7, Western Kentucky 2-10

Line: Kentucky is favored by 19 points

THE KEYS

Quarterback play

In nine career starts, Morgan Newton (above) has yet to play up to the recruiting hype he brought from Indiana. With the 6-foot-4, 235-pound junior now starting his third year of college football, UK needs him to blossom. Kentucky has no other scholarship quarterback who has even dressed for a college game.

The new defensive scheme

Joker Phillips brought in Rick Minter to install a defense that would show more diverse looks and take more risks than the base 4-3 front Kentucky has employed in recent years. Stopping WKU star running back Bobby Rainey would build confidence in Minter and his new approach among the Kentucky players and fans.

A fast start

Kentucky of the regal Southeastern Conference smoked WKU of the Sun Belt a season ago. If UK can assert control early Thursday, it could demoralize the Hilltoppers. Conversely, the longer the game stays close, the more belief Western Kentucky would figure to gain.

THE MOOD

Kentucky's annual season-ending loss to Tennessee in 2010 and a lackluster performance in a defeat to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl soured the mood of the UK fan base toward the football program. After a summer filled with basketball hoopla, Joker Phillips and Co. could really use an impressive performance to rekindle football enthusiasm. A loss to Western would be embarrassing.

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