Over at the Mothership, SEC blogger Chris Low has spent part of the day previewing Saturday’s Compass Bowl for everyone’s edification. He focused on several things to watch, and here are some of his keys to the game for Kentucky:
1. Shut down the running game: Pittsburgh and Dion Lewis put up impressive numbers in the running game last season, but it’s been a struggle for much of this season. The Panthers were 5-0 when rushing for 150 yards, so the last thing the Wildcats want to do is allow Pitt to establish itself on the ground and dictate the flow of the game by running the football.
2. Get Newton off to a good start: Look for the Wildcats to put replacement quarterback Morgan Newton in an early position to make some easier throws and generate a little confidence. It’s been a while since he’s been in this situation. So having some success early will probably be even more important. And that confidence thing isn’t confined to just him. His teammates also need a reason to believe in him and rally around him.
3. Get the ball to Cobb: The best thing Newton will have going for him is Randall Cobb, who may see more than a few snaps at quarterback in the Wildcat package. Cobb’s been off for more than a month and is rested, so there’s no such thing as wearing him out at this point. He ought to get 15 touches at a minimum and maybe even 20. Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats have several new plays in place to get him the ball. Newton’s probably not going to be as efficient as Hartline throwing the ball, which means Kentucky may have to work harder at making sure Cobb gets his touches.
Despite that third key being basically as sure a thing as the eastern sunrise and capable of winning the game alone, the other two are big question marks, as Newton is far-removed from real action and Kentucky’s run defense has been porous to say the least. That probably explains why the Cats are underdogs going into the game, and why Low isn’t picking them to hang another bowl banner on the wall. Unless they don’t give out banners, in which case it’s a trophy he’s picking them not to get. Here’s the official prediction:
Pittsburgh 30, Kentucky 24. Had Hartline not been suspended, the Wildcats would be the team to beat in this game. But Newton has thrown just seven passes all year long and will no doubt have to get accustomed to game speed. He’s had more than a month to get ready. Pitt will take advantage of his lack of game action, though, and force him into some game-changing mistakes.
I respect the opinion, but any prediction for a Kentucky game that doesn’t mention Randall Cobb simply isn’t complete. Cobb will make sure that, if this does end up being his last game with the Cats, it’ll be one to remember. Pitt’s never seen anything like him and I expect that they’ll take a little time to catch up…like 60 minutes of time. Cats by 10. Go Big Blue.