How Kentucky and Tennessee-Martin match up for Saturday's game at Commonwealth Stadium:
Patrick Towles makes his first game appearance since throwing one pass (a 20-yard completion) at Tennessee in the 2012 season finale. The 6-foot-5, 238-pound redshirt sophomore was 19-for-40 passing for 233 yards as a true freshman. Tennessee-Martin senior Dylan Favre (nephew of you know who) and redshirt junior Jarod Neal shared the Skyhawks starting job in 2013. In nine games, Favre threw for 1,081 yards and nine TDs; in 12 games, Neal passed for 1,529 yards and nine TDs.
Kentucky's Braylon Heard averaged 6.7 yards a carry as a sophomore at Nebraska in 2012. Last season as a true freshman, Jojo Kemp led UK rushers with 482 yards. UT-Martin's Abou Toure started his career at Utah State. Last season as a backup at Martin, Toure ran for 509 yards and had 100-yard games against Memphis (113 yards) and Eastern Kentucky (111).
UK is counting on sophomore Ryan Timmons to break out. The former Franklin County star caught 32 passes with two TDs last year. Potential UK starters Jeff Badet and Alexander Montgomery are both out with injuries. UT-Martin lost its top four receivers from 2013, and will rely heavily on transfers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including ex-UK walk-on William Tanner.
Steven Borden caught all of three passes for Kentucky last season; that's two more than Ronnie Shields caught in 2013. UK needs the two seniors to produce in 2014. Ben Axline, a product of Collins High School in Shelby County, is listed first-team for UT-Martin at "H" receiver. In 11 games last season, Axline caught one pass.
UK starting left tackle Darrian Miller is suspended for the opener. Jordan Swindle swings from right tackle to left. Redshirt freshman Kyle Meadows will start at right tackle. Ramsey Meyers, another redshirt freshman, will also make his first career start at right guard. UT-Martin fifth-year senior Charles Sweeton (34 career starts) leads a veteran Skyhawks front that allowed only 19 sacks in 2013. Former Shelby County lineman Matt Axline will start at center after playing guard last season.
Kentucky senior ends Bud Dupree (9.5 tackles for loss; seven sacks in 2013) and Za'Darius Smith (6.5 TFL, six sacks) are expected to be the bedrocks of the UK defense. The Cats will look for ways to get promising sophomore DE Jason Hatcher (3 TFL, 2 sacks) on the field with Dupree and Smith. UT-Martin defensive end Ryan Isom, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior, leads a smallish front in the Skyhawks' 3-3-5 base alignment.
Paducah Tilghman product Josh Forrest, a converted wide receiver, will try to replace departed standout Avery Williamson at middle linebacker for UK. UT-Martin's Tony Bell is one of the more potent playmakers in the Football Championship Subdivision. Last year, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Memphis product had 15 TFL, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
UK head coach Mark Stoops has raved about the play of junior-college transfer A.J. Stamps at safety throughout the pre-season. True sophomore nickelback Blake McClain (59 tackles, five pass breakups) was strong in 2013. Tennessee-Martin CB Leon Carlton III (one interception, two forced fumbles) is the sole returning starter in the Skyhawks' defensive backfield.
UK is breaking in a new place-kicker, redshirt freshman Austin McGinnis. Junior punter Landon Foster averaged more yards a kick (42.9 to 41.3) as a freshman but had two more inside-the-20 punts in 2013 (15) than in 2012 (13). Senior Demarco Robinson will try to help Kentucky get a punt return game going after the Cats struggled in 2013. UT-Martin punter James Satterfield averaged 40.9 yards last season. Place-kicker Jackson Redditt made all 33 of his PATs and was 12-for-17 on field goal attempts in 2013, and hit a 51-yarder against EKU.
Kentucky 45, Tennessee-Martin 13.