UK, Western don't know what to expect from each other

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 27, 2013 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Season openers by nature are challenging for a head coach.

New players are playing new positions. Freshmen might be called on to make big plays in front of crowds larger than some of their hometowns.

But this season opener between Kentucky and Western Kentucky could cause both head coaches to develop more wrinkles than a Shar Pei puppy.

Both teams have brand new coaching staffs on both sides of the ball. Western Kentucky's coach was exiled from the game for more than a year.

The only constant in this crazy football experiment is a collection of returning players who have been a part of this series for the past three years.

"It's definitely a guessing game because you never know what they might do," Kentucky senior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "These coaches have been off for a while, so you've just got to go in, look at where they came from, study that film and study tendencies."

It's meant a lot of extra film work on both sides.

WKU Coach Bobby Petrino said this week his staff has been watching film from Stoops' defenses at Florida State and Neal Brown's offenses at Texas Tech.

That's on top of breaking down current Kentucky players and their tendencies.

Same on the UK side.

"We've watched Arkansas, Louisville, other stuff," UK defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley said. "You've got to look at a combination of all of that. You have to see what he had, how it matches with the personnel he's got there, how he used those guys.

"You have to draw your own conclusions. It's not going to be perfect, but you have to kind of assume what he's going to do when he gets into the game."

UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said he'd never had to build a game plan in quite this way.

"This is unique because the head coach didn't coach last year," Eliot said. "So, it's just something we're going to have to prepare for differently."

Stoops said the playing field is being slightly leveled because both staffs are in the same situation.

"They've had a little bit more time if they wanted to get creative and change some things up certainly between years," he said, referencing the year off Petrino was forced to take after scandal cost him his job at Arkansas. "Very good offensive mind, very good defensive mind over there at Western. We'll have a lot to prepare for."

Neither head coach has faced the other in a game.

Petrino's familiarity with the UK staff comes on the offensive side of the ball from when his Arkansas team played Brown when the Cats offensive coordinator was at Troy.

And Stoops has been on staffs that have faced WKU defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

But those close encounters do little to help develop the current game plan, Petrino said.

"Everybody formulates their team around their talent," the Hilltoppers coach said. "They'll obviously do different things than what we've just studied on film. You're watching other players do the scheme, so you're not really sure about the talent or the speed level that you're going to face."

Which is why UK's defensive coordinator said you can only plan so much. Who knows how Western Kentucky starting quarterback Brandon Doughty will run the Petrino style?

"I have a mishmash of things that I look at to determine what we're going to get, but ultimately I'm just worried about us," Eliot said. "My concentration has been on the Kentucky defense and how we play and how sound we are fundamentally."

And focusing on yourself is mandatory. There already are enough variables to drive a mad scientist more insane.

"The other great challenge for both teams is we're not sure what our guys are gonna do either," Petrino said. "It's our first time together in battle. How are we gonna react to the ups and downs and the swings and change of momentums in the game?"

Practice notes

So what are the chances that some of the gray uniforms or the helmets with matte finishes tweeted out by various Cats recruits this summer will be worn this weekend against Western Kentucky? Very slim.

Stoops was asked if there will be new uniforms on Saturday and he said no.

"I'm going to stay traditional right now, go with a uniform that you've seen," he said.

Apparently Western Kentucky Coach Bobby Petrino couldn't promise that. When asked Monday what his uniform plan is, the Hilltoppers coach would only say "they'll be red and white. I know that."

■ After several physical practices the past few weeks, Stoops said the Cats plan to start cutting them back the rest of the week after getting health reports from high performance coach Erik Korem. "We'll obviously still have a pretty good practice tomorrow and in pads and all that, but we'll start tapering it," Stoops said.

Online Go to John Clay's blog for video interviews from Tuesday. Coach Stoops talks about Tuesday's practice, and preparing to play against two WKU QBs.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:

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