Kent State at Kentucky: Keys to the game

mstory@herald-leader.comSeptember 7, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Kent State (1-0) at Kentucky (0-1)

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (not available on Time Warner Cable), ESPN GamePlan pay-per-view package, online at ESPN3.com

Where: Commonwealth Stadium

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 199

Series: Kentucky leads 6-0

Last meeting: Kentucky won 56-20 on Sept. 9, 2007.

Line: Kentucky by 7.

The keys

Start fast

With the Cats coming off a dispiriting 32-14 thumping at archrival Louisville and Joker Phillips having lost 15 of his last 23 games as Kentucky head coach, the jackals are braying. The best way to keep the negativity from overtaking Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday is to play well from the get-go against a Kent State team that has won five of its last six contests.

Stop somebody

The Kentucky defense was exploited by Louisville for touchdown drives of 99, 85 and 93 yards in the first half. UK couldn't stop the run, and it couldn't stop the pass. To have any chance at a successful season, UK has to put a better defense on the field. If the Cats are not substantially better Saturday on defense against a Mid-American Conference foe that was No. 119 in the country last season in total offense (253.5 yards a game), it's time to hit the panic button.

Keep offense going

Other than two lost fumbles, the Kentucky offense was a bright spot in Sunday's loss at Louisville. UK and sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith need to carry over the proficiency of the season opener against a Kent State defense that forced six turnovers in a season-opening win over Towson. For UK, adding a stretch-the-field component to what was an efficient short-passing attack against U of L would be a plus.

The mood

Turned toxic in a hurry. Given the reports about plunging UK season ticket sales that filled the pre-season, the largest element of curiosity Saturday night will initially be over the size of the Commonwealth Stadium crowd. For the embattled Joker Phillips, what makes Kent State (and next week's matchup with Western Kentucky) problematic is that winning will not do a lot to stem the negativity that engulfs UK football, but losing would be Cat-astrophic.

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