Kentucky vs. Jacksonville State: What to watch

mstory@herald-leader.comOctober 22, 2011 

Washaun Ealey's numbers have picked up since a slow start to the year. He's gained 155 yards, 143 and 124 in the last three games.

Jacksonville State (5-1, 4-0 OVC) at Kentucky (2-4, 0-3 SEC)

When: Noon | TV: ESPNU | Line: None

Radio: WLAP-AM 630; WBUL-FM 98.1; XM Channel 200; Sirius Premier Package Channel 220

Series: First meeting between the schools

THE KEYS

Start fast

Having been outscored a demoralizing 137-20 in its last three games, Kentucky has to be a bit fragile. Getting out of the gates quickly would figure to give UK an emotional lift and some confidence. It might be possible, too. Jacksonville State has been outscored by 10 points (45-35) in the first quarter of games this season.

Find an offense

When you are 118th out of 120 teams in the FBS in total offense, there's (almost) nowhere to go but up. Against a foe from the FCS (formerly I-AA), Kentucky needs its veteran offensive line to finally assert itself and get a running game established. Then UK needs to take advantage of a JSU secondary that is surrendering 272.8 yards a game through the air and get a passing game established. If the Kentucky offense is going to turn around in 2011, this is the game where it needs to start.

Ignore the stands

The biggest question coming into this game has been what the attendance will be Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium. Whether the fans show up or not, the Kentucky team needs to keep its focus on the field. In 2006, the fans were disgruntled with the Rich Brooks coaching regime and crowds were (relatively speaking) sparse. Yet the team turned itself around dramatically in the second half of that season and launched the current five-year bowl streak. Lesson: Negative environments can be overcome.

THE MOOD

It's gnarly. The fan base, understandably, was unhappy with blowout losses to Florida, LSU and South Carolina. Many weren't pleased when Mitch Barnhart proclaimed that Joker Phillips would be back as Kentucky coach in 2012. Beating Jacksonville State may not win back the disgruntled, but losing to an FCS team, even a top-10 FCS team (which the Gamecocks are) would be a disaster.

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