How Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette match up for Saturday's game at Commonwealth Stadium:
In the 21st century, Kentucky's better quarterbacks have come into their own as fourth-year juniors. Patrick Towles (2,718 passing yards, 57.3 percent completions) begins his redshirt junior season Saturday. Mark Stoops said Monday he also hopes to get Drew Barker some action while the game is in doubt. Louisiana-Lafayette is replacing departed starter Terrance Broadway and will go with either Brooks Haack (a dropback passer) or Jalen Nixon (a read-option specialist), both of whom are juniors.
Mark Stoops said Monday he thinks Stanley "Boom" Williams (486 rushing yards, 6.6 yards a carry, 5 touchdowns as true freshman in 2014) has the ability to be a top-tier SEC running back. Louisiana-Lafayette's Elijah McGuire, the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, ran for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns last year and also led the Ragin' Cajuns in receptions (45). The question about the 5-11, 208-pound McGuire is durability now that he no longer has the departed Alonzo Harris with whom to split carries.
True sophomores Garrett Johnson (22 receptions in 2014) and Dorian Baker (19) and redshirt sophomore Jeff Badet (22 catches in 2013; missed last season due to injuries) are listed first-team on Kentucky's depth chart. Last year's leading receiver, ex-Franklin County star Ryan Timmons (45 catches), is listed behind Johnson. Louisiana-Lafayette's Jamal Robinson had 54 catches for 862 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013, but earned a medical redshirt for 2014 after appearing in only four games due to knee and foot injuries last year. The 6-4, 205-pound senior is thought to have NFL potential.
Though neither have ever played in a college football game, true freshman C.J. Conrad and redshirt frosh Darryl Long are Kentucky's top tight ends. A year ago, UK TEs caught a grand total of seven passes. UL-L's Nick Byrne started two games and made five receptions (for 29 yards) a season ago. Backup Evan Tatford was formerly the starting tight end at Tulane.
Kentucky has four starters back from 2014, though senior Jordan Swindle is flipping from right tackle to left to replace the graduated Darrian Miller. True freshman George Asafo-Adjei will start at right tackle for the Cats. Louisiana-Lafayette returns three starters, but only senior right tackle Octravian Anderson will start in the same position he played in 2014. Senior Mykhael Quave has moved from left tackle to left guard and classmate Donovan Williams from left to right guard.
Kentucky is counting on senior nose guard Melvin Lewis to be the anchor of a defensive line that needs to play better. It will be interesting to see how much sophomore Matt Elam, who turned down Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame, contributes in his second year. Louisiana-Lafayette returns four of its top six defensive linemen, but lost standouts Christian Ringo (11.5 sacks) and Justin Hamilton (four sacks) from last season. Sophomore nose tackle Taboris Lee is listed ahead of ex-Miami Hurricane Jacoby Briscoe on the UL-L depth chart.
A converted wide receiver, Kentucky senior Josh Forrest has taken some time to grow into the physicality required of a middle linebacker. The Paducah Tilghman product had 20 tackles at Tennessee last season. With Alvin "Bud" Dupree in the NFL and Jason Hatcher suspended, redshirt freshman Denzil Ware will try to provide UK with some disruption as hybrid end/OLB. Louisiana-Lafayette's defensive strength is its linebackers. SLB Dominique Tovell had 67 tackles and 2.5 TFL last year. At WLB, Arkansas transfer Otha Peters could be a difference maker.
On Monday, Mark Stoops talked up the potential of true freshman Chris Westry. The 6-4, 185-pound Orange Park, Fla., product will start at cornerback. If he stays healthy, senior safety A.J. Stamps has first-team All-SEC talent. Louisiana-Lafayette was counting on junior cornerback Simeon Thomas to anchor a secondary that allowed a 65-percent completion rate last season. But he is being held out this week over eligibility concerns. Savion Brown (boundary) and Jevante Watson (field) are both new starters at corner.
Kentucky senior punter Landon Foster (42.6 yards a punt in 2014) placed 27 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line last year. Sophomore place-kicker Austin MacGinnis was All-SEC first team after making 21 of 27 field goals. With Demarco Robinson's graduation, Ryan Timmons is slated to return punts for UK. Louisiana-Lafayette is breaking in two freshman specialists in Steven Coutts as punter and Stevie Artigue at place-kicker. From Brisbane, Australia, Coutts played Australian Rules Football and rugby growing up.
Kentucky 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 24