2012’s version of the Governor’s Cup battle didn’t bode well for Joker Phillips’ third edition of Kentucky Wildcats. While there were numerous positives coming out of yesterday’s contest like a much improved passing game and more efficient rushing attack, many glaring weaknesses were easily noticeable like a high turnover rate and Rick Minter’s defense. While the outcome of this weekend’s game against Louisville was far from desirable, chance for redemption comes this weekend. The Kent State Golden Flashes enter Saturday’s match-up in Commonwealth Stadium as 7-point underdogs, but return 14 starters from last season’s 5-7 squad. For Kentucky to come away with a victory, balancing their record at 1-1, some drastic improvements must be made. But will Kent State allow for an easy Wildcat victory, or will the Golden Flashes prove menacing to a Kentucky team who needs an opponent for confidence building?
The first area of concern that must be addressed, without question, is the Wildcat defense, or lack there of. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, for lack of a better phrase, absolutely gashed Kentucky’s secondary throughout the course of yesterday’s game, completing 90.5% (19/21) of his passes while throwing for 11.0 yards per attempt. Part of this was due to his undeniable skill set, but a good portion of those high numbers came from Kentucky’s inexperienced Linebackers and Secondary. Kent State brings a very experienced Senior Quarterback, Spencer Keith, into Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, but fortunately for our Secondary he’s not very talented. And when I say not very talented, he’s literally gotten worse as his career progressed. As a Freshman, Keith averaged 7.3 yards per passing attempt, but it’s dropped every year since, 6.1 as a Sophomore, 5.2 as a Junior, and now 4.3 in one game as a Senior. Other stats have gradually dropped too, like his passer rating and completion percentage. In addition, the Golden Flashes only return two starting wide receivers. Given this, Kent State appears to be an offense that will allow for Kentucky’s youthful secondary to gain valuable experience while not facing a severe penalty.
The other main area of concern entering September 8th’s match-up is the issue of turning the ball over at a high rate. Last season, Kent State was among the nation’s elite in forcing opponent turnovers, doing so on 18.0% of opponent possessions (12th nationally). This season appears no different as they forced their initial opponent, Towson, into 6 turnovers on 11 possessions. Granted Towson is terrible (as evidenced by the above video), but it appears as though their aggressive mindset on defense has translated well from the previous season. Besides yesterday’s defensive performance, turnovers were Kentucky’s second most pressing concern, losing the ball twice in 11 total possessions (18.2%). While there’s no need to lecture on the importance of keeping the ball, Kentucky’s turnovers were especially costly as they occurred deep in Cardinal territory, costing the Wildcats numerous points and field position. For a Wildcat victory, limiting fumbles and interceptions will be key. With Maxwell Smith’s maturation, mainly his ability to efficiently move the ball down field without tossing picks, half of that concern is seemingly addressed, but will our running backs be able to maintain possession?
Kent State will certainly present some challenges to Kentucky come Saturday, mainly their ability to force mistakes on defense. But they do bring an exceptionally weak passing game to Lexington which is just what the doctor ordered for our incredibly inexperienced Secondary. If Kentucky is able to keep the Golden Flashes around their normal passing numbers while limiting mistakes on offense, it should be a golden outcome for the Wildcats (Best. Pun. Ever.). Even if Kentucky’s offense struggles, Kent State may be helpful judging from the video above.