Last week: Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3 Central Michigan 21, South Carolina State 6
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Kentucky will win if?
Despite an atrocious offense, Kentucky managed a win last week. It's difficult to imagine the offense could play any worse than that, and coaches have said the team has taken a step forward this week in practice. Junior quarterback Morgan Newton has to cut down on the interceptions, but he also needs more consistent play out of his receivers. It'll take both of those things happening for the offense to be as explosive as fans hoped it would be before last Thursday night.
The offensive line, which is still dinged up and will likely enter the game without two starters, won't be at full strength. If it can pave the way for a serviceable running game, though, that could make a big difference. There's no one in Central Michigan's front seven who should scare the Kentucky offense, and it'll make a big difference if Newton is comfortable.
The best chance for Kentucky to run away with this one will come if the defense can force turnovers like it did last week. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter's scheme should be at its best when it can attack a passing offense like the one CMU employs. Confusing the Chippewas' offensive line and attacking the quarterback will be the emphasis in the defense's second test this year.
Central Michigan will win if?
If the Wildcats play as poorly on offense as they did in the season opener, CMU will have a great chance to knock off an SEC team on its home turf. Even though the defense held WKU to three points, there were scoring opportunities for the Hilltoppers. Junior quarterback Ryan Radcliff and junior wide receiver Cody Wilson form a far more effective passing tandem than anything WKU threw at Kentucky, and that could mean trouble for a secondary that had some lapses last week. It's not hard to see the Chippewas putting up a couple touchdowns on the Wildcats, especially if the Kentucky offense stalls as often as it did last week.
For that to happen, CMU will have to have some surprises on defense. This was not an elite defense last year, and there aren't any game-changers who return this year. If Kentucky does struggle early offensively, though, it could snowball into a bigger problem. Despite their outward appearance, another offensive performance like the one against WKU would have to have some effect on the Wildcats' psyche.
It's tough to imagine CMU winning this one, but then again, it was tough to imagine Kentucky only putting up 14 points against WKU. The Chippewas should present an even tougher test than WKU, but Kentucky still has far better talent and depth than CMU.
Key matchup: CMU quarterback Ryan Radcliff vs. Kentucky linebacker Winston Guy Guy had been knocked earlier in his career for his coverage skills, but he played one of the best games of his career against WKU and finished with two interceptions. He'll also get the chance to blitz Radcliff, harassing him in every phase of the game. If Guy can have an impact on the passing game as a cover man or as a blitzer, things will get a lot tougher for Radcliff.
Cats Illustrated staff predictions:
Ben Jones, staff writer: Kentucky 31, Central Michigan 10 We saw last week that the Kentucky defense has a chance to be special. But Central Michigan is probably a better team than WKU, and it's entirely possible Kentucky could play better on defense this week while still giving up more points. The offense should bounce back a bit as well, though it won't be out of reach until late. Newton and the offense might need the defense to get a couple turnovers in scoring position if they're really going to blow this one open.
Brett Dawson, publisher: Kentucky 24, Central Michigan 13 Was last Thursday's offensive performance an anomaly or a sign of things to come? Central Michigan likely won't provide us with an answer. The guess here is that the offensive line will have its struggles again - those will continue until everyone's healthy and practicing - but Morgan Newton and his wide receivers won't be as shaky as they were against Western Kentucky. The defense will surrender its first touchdown of the season, but don't expect Kentucky to be significantly challenged.
Steve Jones, recruiting editor: Kentucky 31, Central Michigan 10 The Cats' season opener was "weak, won." And they know it. They escaped Western Kentucky with a 14-3 victory in which the UK offense struggled mightily, and by Saturday, the Cats will have had nine days to think about it. The Chippewas are a traditionally strong Mid-American Conference team, but the Cats will come out with energy, a home crowd behind them and something to prove, particularly quarterback Morgan Newton and his wide receivers. So I expect a productive game. UK's defense was strong against WKU, and look for Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan to find their way in the backfield again. UK's biggest cause for concern is its offensive line, which likely will be without two starters because of injuries, but that group also will have a chip on its shoulder after a subpar performance against WKU.
T.J. Walker, staff writer: Kentucky 38, Central Michigan 10: The defense looks solid again, forcing a couple turnovers, and the offense will look much improved. Expect some big plays down the field led by La'Rod King and Gene McCaskill. The running game will look a lot like it did against WKU because of the injuries on the o-line, but the Wildcats cruise to 2-0.