How Kentucky and WKU match up

mstory@herald-leader.comAugust 30, 2013 

UK quarterback Jalen Whitlow hands off the ball during practice on the Tim Couch practice field in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, August 24, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins

MATT GOINS — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Matchups

QUARTERBACKS

Last season as a true freshman, UK's Jalen Whitlow completed 46.6 percent of his passes in his first eight games — but he hit 67.2 percent in Kentucky's final two contests. Maxwell Smith has something to prove to WKU after throwing four interceptions vs. the Hilltoppers in 2012. WKU starter Brandon Doughty, a fourth-year junior, threw only three passes last season. He has one career start, in 2011 against Navy, but was knocked out after three plays by injury.

Advantage: Kentucky

RUNNING BACKS

The new Kentucky coaching staff has raved about the play of UK senior Raymond Sanders throughout the pre-season. Senior Jonathan George, sophomore Dyshawn Mobley and true freshman Jojo Kemp should give UK a capable, four-back stable. With 3,161 all-purpose yards in 2012, WKU's Antonio Andrews joined Barry Sanders as the only two players in Football Bowl Subdivision history to eclipse 3,000 in a season. Andrews ran for 125 yards and three TDs last year against UK.

Advantage: Western Kentucky

WIDE RECEIVERS

For a team installing a pass-oriented spread, Kentucky enters the season very reliant on newcomers. Junior-college transfer Javess Blue and freshmen Ryan Timmons and Alex Montgomery carry high expectations. WKU's Willie McNeal caught 43 passes last season and led the Toppers with six TD catches (including a 13-yarder against UK).

Advantage: Kentucky

TIGHT ENDS

In Neal Brown's Air Raid, Kentucky seniors Jordan Aumiller (no catches since 2010) and Anthony Kendrick (six career receptions) have a shot to make some late-career noise. WKU star Jack Doyle (team-best 53 catches last season) has graduated. Elizabethtown product Mitchell Henry (13 catches, three TDs in 2012) showed promise last year for Western.

Advantage: Western Kentucky

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Junior left tackle Darrian Miller, the Bryan Station product, anchors a Kentucky offensive line with three returning starters. One of those UK returnees, Kevin Mitchell, has moved from right tackle to right guard. Western returns three starters and eight of its top 10 offensive linemen. Center Sean Conway is on the Rimington Award watch list.

Advantage: Kentucky

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Junior-college transfer Za'Darius Smith and converted linebacker Alvin "Bud" Dupree are expected to give UK its most disruptive pass rush off the edge in years. Western lost all four of its defensive line starters from 2012. Redshirt sophomore Gavin Rocker (three sacks in 2012), an end, is WKU's most proven returnee.

Advantage: Kentucky

LINEBACKERS

Senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson was second in the Southeastern Conference last season in tackles (135), but UK is unproven on the outside. WKU returns three senior starters. Middle linebacker Andrew Jackson has 20 tackles, including three for loss, combined against UK in the past two seasons. Outside LB Xavius Boyd had 10 stops in Commonwealth Stadium last year.

Advantage: Western Kentucky

SECONDARY

After an auto accident left him in intensive care in early May, Kentucky safety Ashely Lowery is slated to start against WKU. True sophomore cornerbacks Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller figure to be tested by WKU. Western safety Jonathan Dowling, a Florida transfer, picked off three passes against Kentucky in 2012. He is one of four returning starters in a strong Hilltoppers' defensive backfield.

Advantage: Western Kentucky

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kentucky's Landon Foster averaged 42.9 yards a punt last season as a true freshman. As a senior, Joe Mansour gets his first shot as UK place-kicker. WKU returns both its punter, Hendrix Brakefield (42.1 yards), and place-kicker, Garrett Schwettman (10-for-13 but only two makes outside the 30).

Advantage: Western Kentucky

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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