September 30, 2011

Cats face No. 1 LSU in Death Valley

KENTUCKY at No. 1 LOUISIANA STATE
Site: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La. (92,542)
Game time: 12:21 p.m.
Coaches: Joker Phillips, Kentucky (8-9 overall, second year at UK and overall, Les Miles, LSU (94-38 overall, seventh year at LSU, 66-17 at LSU, 1-1 against Kentucky)
Series history: LSU leads 38-16-1
Last time: The Wildcats exorcised the demons of a 49-0 shutout in 2006 by beating the No. 1 ranked Tigers 43-37 in a triple overtime thriller in Lexington.
Depth charts: Kentucky, LSU
TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network, XM 201, Sirius 218 (Sirius Premier package), radio stream at UKathletics.com
Internet video stream: ESPN3.com

Kentucky will win if?
LSU is a team built on the strength of its defense. Quarterback Jarrett Lee is a game manager who relies on the running game to move the team down the field. If the Wildcats can stuff LSU's ground attack and force Lee to put the ball in the air, it could create turnovers. The UK offense hasn't shown it can sustain long scoring drives yet, so turnovers will be the key to putting points on the board. If the offense can get the ball with a short field, they'll have a real chance to score.

But UK's offensive line has to take a major step forward. It's just the second time this season all five starters will be together, and they still had a lot of work to do the last time we saw them. That was before they faced LSU's defensive line, which has terrorized the opposition all season. It's not wise to ask quarterback Morgan Newton to throw the ball 40 times, particularly with the way his receivers have played. Even La'Rod King, the Wildcats' most reliable receiver, has had his share of drops. It'll be nice to have running back Josh Clemons back, but he's still just a true freshman playing in Baton Rouge.

It's going to take a lot for Kentucky to win this one. They'll have to play nearly flawlessly, and it's going to take some major gaffes from LSU. It seems like Miles always finds himself in close games that have no business being competitive, but when he does, he almost always manages to pull them out. That said, the Wildcats have nothing to lose in this one. If they get blown out, that's what most people are expecting. If anything else happens, it's gravy.

LSU will win if?
The Tigers have a significant talent advantage at most positions, but the biggest gap probably comes in the trenches. They average 171 yards per game on the ground, wearing down defenses with a pair of physical tailbacks. Spencer Ware is listed at 225 pounds and Michael Ford is 202. That's bad news for Kentucky's defense, which ranks 103rd in the nation against the run. LSU could be in for a field day. Even if they don't find success early and the game is close at halftime, it's the kind of running game that wears defenses down late.

Lee hasn't been overly impressive, but he has the weapons at wide receiver to hurt the Wildcats. LSU also has the best cornerback tandem Kentucky has seen this season, and they'll be without wide receiver Gene McCaskill again. Between LSU's powerful pass rush and its lockdown corners, Newton could be in trouble every time he drops back. If he's not comfortable, Kentucky's entire offense will stall. If they can use their advantage on the defensive line to get to Newton without committing extra players, he'll have trouble picking out the weak spots in the secondary.

LSU should win with ease. They're more talented, more polished, and won't want to let their newly-acquired No. 1 ranking slip away easily. They'll face more important games further down the road, but it's not wise to bet against the Tigers here. Look for them to attack the Kentucky offense and use the running game to control the tempo. Even if they do just one of those things successfully, they're talented enough to win convincingly.

Key matchup: UK defensive tackle Mister Cobble vs. LSU center P.J. Lonergan
Cobble is the Wildcats' biggest defender, and he'll have to draw double teams from the Tigers if UK's linebackers are going to have a clean shot at LSU's tailbacks. If Kentucky loses the fight at the line of scrimmage, LSU's runners will find themselves with a full head of steam at the next level. That could mean another ugly week of trying to stop a powerful ground attack.

Cats Illustrated staff predictions:

Ben Jones, Staff Writer: LSU 52, Kentucky 7
LSU is a better team than Florida, and the Gators pounded UK last week. To make things worse, the Wildcats are walking into one of the toughest home stadiums in the country. Kentucky's offensive line has struggled all season, and it's facing its toughest challenge yet this week against LSU's front seven. They'll have to improve quickly to avoid a massacre in Baton Rouge.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: LSU 42, Kentucky 3
LSU isn't an offensive powerhouse, but it doesn't figure to matter, given the strengths of the Tigers' defense and the considerable weaknesses of the UK offense. LSU figures to generate points off turnovers and short fields, provided it comes to play. That's not a given, considering the early start. The pre-noon kickoff (11:21 a.m. CST) is the first at Tiger Stadium since 2008, and LSU is 18-3 in day games under coach Les Miles compared to 48-4 at night. The Tigers' potential lack of focus might be the best weapon Kentucky has in Baton Rouge. Against an LSU team with this much defensive firepower, that doesn't figure to be enough.

Steve Jones, Recruiting Editor: LSU 34, Kentucky 10
The Wildcats dodged a big bullet by landing a kickoff time of 11:21 a.m. CST, so I don't think UK will get knocked out of the water right off the bat like what likely would have happened had this been a night game in Death Valley. Still, LSU's defense has been able to pretty well control the very strong offenses of Oregon and West Virginia in games away from Baton Rouge. The Cats, ranked 113th out of 120 FBS teams in total offense, don't figure to present the same level of challenge, especially considering the location of this game. It's hard to imagine UK scoring in the 20s against No. 1 LSU when the Cats couldn't do it against Western Kentucky, Louisville or Florida. The Tigers still don't strike me as a scoring machine, so I think the Cats will cover the 30-point spread. To pull what would be considered probably the biggest upset in UK history, the Cats must hold onto the ball, which it couldn't do against Florida, force multiple LSU turnovers and hope to eek out a low-scoring victory.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: LSU 41, Kentucky 17
Kentucky needs a break to get things back on track. Instead it gets No.1 LSU in Death Valley. It would take a miracle for UK to come away with a win, but the Cats can find a lot of positives this weekend. The run game has been virtually nonexistent this season, but with a healthy offensive line, UK will need to try and control the clock. If successful, it will only help a passing game that has been above average and could allow UK to score at LSU for the first time since 1998. But LSU is one of the best teams in the country, with a defense that is faster than Florida's. Any successes UK finds on offense will be few and far between. The Cats just have to hope to not turn the ball over and force LSU to score the hard way.



 

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