Kentucky vs. Miami (Ohio): Keys to the game

September 6, 2013 

UK quarterback Maxwell Smith throws 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

Quick facts about Saturday's University of Kentucky football home opener against Miami (Ohio).

THE GAME

Miami (Ohio) (0-1) at Kentucky (0-1)

When: Noon

Where: Commonwealth Stadium

TV: Fox Sports South

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 200, Sirius Channel 135

Series: Kentucky leads 7-4-1

Last meeting: Kentucky won 42-0 on Sept. 5, 2009, in Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium.

Line: Kentucky is favored by 17.

THE KEYS

Start fast

Against Western Kentucky in the season opener, UK played from behind from the 10:53 mark of the first quarter. Against a Mid-American Conference foe in the first home game of the Mark Stoops era, Kentucky needs to take control from the opening kick. If UK does not impose its will quickly, it gives the RedHawks hope and could make for a grumpy Commonwealth Stadium crowd.

Protect Maxwell Smith

Last season, against a MAC team (Kent State) much stronger than Miami is expected to be, the Kentucky quarterback played the best game of his UK career. Smith completed 30 of 39 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Having been elevated this week over opening-game starter Jalen Whitlow, Smith will be expected to put a bit more "Air" into UK's Air Raid 2.0 offense. With Smith, however, durability is always a concern. He started three games in 2011 before getting knocked out with an injury (shoulder); last year, he started four then was sidelined (shoulder, ankle). It's incumbent on UK pass protectors to keep Smith upright.

Stop somebody

You can say this for the Kentucky defense against WKU, it was consistent — UK couldn't stop the run (216 yards allowed) and it couldn't stop the pass (27-for-34 for 271 yards allowed). Kentucky clearly has some talent deficiencies on defense, but it will be a major disappointment if the Wildcats don't handle the basics, tackling, gap responsibilities, playing the ball in the secondary, better against Miami than they did in week one.

THE MOOD

Went from giddy all off-season to disappointed after UK's losing debut to the Mark Stoops era. Given the murderer's row of No. 8 Louisville, No. 12 Florida, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama that awaits Kentucky after Miami, it behooves the Cats to make a positive showing against the RedHawks.

MARK STORY

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

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