UK Football

Potent Middle has Cats on alert

The Kentucky football players were watching tape to prepare for their game with Louisville last year when they noticed something.

Louisville's opponent, Middle Tennessee, was moving up and down the field at will against the Cardinals, who at the time were a Top 10 team.

When UK defensive end Jeremy Jarmon found out that the Blue Raiders were on the 2008 schedule, "I immediately flashed back to the Louisville game and said to myself, 'This is going to be a tough test for us,' " he said.

The Blue Raiders are an intriguing opponent for UK for several reasons. First, they're a legitimate mid-major program. In 2005, they beat Vanderbilt 17-15 in a game that ultimately cost a Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett-led Commodores squad a trip to a bowl. They pushed Louisville to the brink in that 2007 game before ultimately falling 58-42.

And last week, they picked up one of the biggest wins in the program's history by knocking off Maryland, 24-14.

"They had our respect before based on what we saw them do to Louisville," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "And they've got it even more now after watching them beat Maryland."

MTSU Coach Rick Stockstill said he doesn't think his team will suffer a hangover after the win over the Terps.

"I would rather (have to) bring them down than try to get them up," Stockstill said. "They know how we approach things. I promise you when 3 o'clock gets here and we have our team meeting and after we give out our awards, it'll be behind us. We know that just because we beat Maryland doesn't mean we'll beat Kentucky or Arkansas State or Florida Atlantic or whoever. We've got to go out and continue to practice and prepare physically and mentally the same way we've done."

MTSU, which lost its season opener at home to Troy, 31-17, runs the spread, an offense that the Wildcats defense has struggled with. Quarterback Joe Craddock, who passed for 290 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards against Louisville. is back. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound senior threw for 256 yards and two scores against Maryland.

The Blue Raiders also welcome back junior tailback Phillip Tanner, who burned the Cards for 144 yards and two TDs, including a 79-yard scoring run. The Middle Tennessee attack features a lot of spread option, misdirection, zone reads and quarterback-run game while mixing in formations with four or five receivers. That figures to pose a huge challenge even for a UK defense that is third in the nation in points allowed per game (2.5), 10th in total defense (185.0 yards per game) and third in pass-efficiency defense after two games.

"I think they're clearly a very dangerous team for us," Brooks said. "They do some things offensively that have given us problems in the past."

"They remind me of Florida," Jarmon said. "Now, they're not as fast as Florida, but they do a lot of the same things. Doing well against them could help get us prepared down the road for teams like Florida who run the spread."

Jarmon, a native of the Memphis area, said he knows a few MTSU players, and he figures they'll be hungry to make a name against another BCS opponent.

"A lot of those guys have chips on their shoulders because maybe a bigger college told them they were an inch or two too short to play at their program," he said. "They'll come out with something to prove."

Brooks on the polls

Brooks paused to reflect on the Top 25 rankings.

The 2-0 Wildcats received six votes in The Associated Press poll, which places them in a tie for 34th; they got 28 votes in the coaches' poll, good for 29th.

"I find it interesting that Kentucky football is perceived as poorly as it is," Brooks said. "I'm not saying we're a Top 25 team, but if some teams that I've seen are ranked, then we are too."

"We haven't had a touchdown scored on us. We did win a bowl game last year. We did beat the No. 1 team in the nation last year."

Brooks said he believes that the lack of a winning tradition affects UK's ranking.

"If we had a history of being more competitive, we'd probably be ranked in the Top 25," Brooks said.

"If we were in a different league, we'd probably be ranked in the Top 25. I don't think people are looking at how good we are right now. They're looking at our schedule and saying how many games are we going to win? I think they're saying, 'Well, they can't beat that team or this team.' "