Never miss a local story.
WKU's K.J. Black returns after a shoulder injury and adds speed to the Hilltoppers' backfield. David Wolke started the two games while Black was out and has passed for 454 yards in three games. UK's Mike Hartline doesn't have the luxury of an experienced backup, but he was SEC Offensive Player of the Week against Middle Tennessee two weeks ago. He has thrown 93 passes without an interception this season.
The Cats are deep with four talented runners led by Derrick Locke and his 52-yard average a game. Tony Dixon, Alfonso Smith and Moncell Allen also contribute with their individual skills. The Toppers have been grounded so far, averaging a mere 117 yards a game. Plus, they're facing the fifth-best rushing defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Garry Williams is back at left tackle for the Cats after a two-week absence. The line should profit from last week's open date, and Coach Rich Brooks has been pleased with better practices. Greg Ryan is the lone senior on Western's line as Coach David Elson looks to the future when the Toppers can compete for a league title and bowl game.
UK's Dicky Lyons Jr. has 19 catches for an average of 51.7 yards a game, 12 receptions more than any other Cat. Brooks has reduced his rotation in the off week following his displeasure with most of the receiving corps. Jake Gaebler has averaged 63 yards in two games for Western, and Elson listed him as probable after recovering from an injury. Derrius Brooks leads the Toppers with 13 catches.
UK allows opponents 50.3 yards a game on the ground, fifth-best in the nation, and is second in scoring defense (6.3 points). The Cats' front four of Ventrell Jenkins, Corey Peters, Myron Pryor and Jeremy Jarmon should be able to stuff Western's weak running game and pressure the quarterback, although Black is elusive. UK's foursome have combined for 31.5 sacks in their careers. Three senior starters make for a veteran WKU defensive front.
Leading tackler Micah Johnson is out for Kentucky, but Braxton Kelley, taking his place in the middle, has 15 stops and two sacks. Kelley played three years in the middle before moving to weakside linebacker this season. Michael Schwindel and Johnny Williams complete UK's imposing corps even without Johnson. Williams has two sacks in spot duty at defensive end. Blake Boyd on the outside and Alonzo Higgins on the inside lead Western. Boyd has 30 tackles and Higgins 24. "Alonzo has played well at an important position for us," Elson said. "Blake is head and shoulders above everybody."
Opponents are averaging 200 air yards against the Wildcats but have only two touchdown tosses. The Cats have five interceptions and 14 breakups. Trevard Lindley and Marcus McClinton have two picks each. Lindley needs one breakup to tie the UK career record. Matt Lentz joins the starting lineup Saturday. The Western secondary is young but solid, according to Elson. The Toppers picked off four passes against Murray State last week.
Ryan Tydlacka is Kentucky's new field-goal kicker after Lones Seiber missed four attempts against Middle Tennessee. Tim Masthay continues to impress with his long kickoffs and 46.3-yard punting average. Twelve of his 19 kickoffs have been touchbacks. He has four punts of 50 yards or longer. Kentucky is averaging 26 yards on kickoff returns and 11.7 yards on punt returns. The Cats have had only one punt returned against them. Tanner Siewert is the long place-kicker for Western, while Zac Minturn is the short man. Siewert has four field goals with a long of 48 yards. Bobby Rainey is averaging 34 yards on six kickoff returns for the Toppers. His long return was 92 yards. He had five returns for 144 yards last week.