UK’s 2010 record was 6-7, including a lost to Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
WKU’s 2010 record was 2-10.
UK is 2-0 against WKU including last year’s 63-28 victory.
Game will be played at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee and considered a home game for the Hilltoppers.
Players to watch WKU
Western Kentucky returns Bobby Rainey, who is on the Doak Walker Watch list as one of the nation’s top running backs. Last season, he rushed 340 times for 1,649 yards and 15 touchdowns. Based on last season’s production, look for the Hilltoppers to rely heavily on Rainey Thursday night. Last season, he averaged 28 carries per game. Against UK, he rushed 22 times for 155 yards. WKU also returns three starting offensive linemen and will try to establish the running game early.
The Hilltoppers quarterback is Kawaun Jakes who had a rating of 106.91 last season. He threw for 1,680 yards and had a 51.2% completion percentage. Look for Jakes to line up in the shotgun as the Hilltoppers run the spread.
Another player to keep an eye on will be Antonio Andrews. The former “Mr. Football” in the state of Kentucky was not heavily recruited and the Cats showed very little interest. Andrews saw action last season as a true freshmen and Willie Taggart is high on his playmaking ability. Andrews is a “do-it-all” type of player who will be playing with extra motivation.
Players to watch UK
Morgan Newton is the guy everybody wants to see. After a mediocre performance in the Compass Bowl, some fans are not sold on Newton’s ability. Joker Phillips, Randy Sanders and Andre Woodson have all been raving about Newton during camp. Look for Newton to stretch the field with his arm, but he will also make plays with his feet. Remember this is the guy the Gators recruited after Tim Tebow and Cam Newton.
Matt Roark is another senior who is ready for a big season. Based on feedback, Roark had a great camp and is playing like a No 1 receiver. Everyone expects big things from La’Rod King and we’ll see other receivers on the field too, but I don’t think WKU can match-up with Roark physically. All signs point to Roark having a huge season.
On defense, everyone’s eyes will be glued to Danny Trevathan, but I’m anxious to see Winston Guy and Ridge Wilson in their new “hybrid” roles. These two guys are great athletes and will create problems for the Hilltoppers defense. Another player the staff has raved about is Collins Ukwu. It will be interesting to see how he, along with the rest of the defensive line, performs in the opener against a non-conference opponent.
Keys to the game
A lot of fans have mixed feelings about this game. One corner of the fan base expects a blow out because it’s a non-conference game. The other corner expects both teams to play a little sloppy because it’s the first game. Personally, I believe both teams may have the “first game jitters,” but I expect the Cats to take care of business.
In the end, the Cats are a much bigger team at the line of scrimmage and should wear down the Hilltoppers in the second half. Look for UK to establish a solid ground attack with Newton taking a few shots down field. On defense, look for Rick Minter to be aggressive with blitzes, but not show too much. After all, this is a non-conference game and there is no reason to give Louisville and Florida game film to review.
Most fans will feel the Cats have made huge strides if they can stop the run, not turn the ball over and play well on special teams. If the Cats hold Bobby Rainey under 100 yards and don’t turn the ball over, it will be a great night in Nashville for the Big Blue Nation.
Finally UK fans will get to see a few of the hyped freshman on Thursday night. While several will play, Josh Clemons and Demarco Robinson are the most likely to have big games. Clemons will back up Raymond Sanders at running back and Robinson is a back up receiver. Joker Phillips plans to play the young guys. It’s important for them to get experience early in case an injury occurs during SEC play.
I don’t think the Cats will play sloppy on Thursday night. Joker Phillips and his staff have a new demeanor. The players are ready to show the Big Blue Nation they can play without Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke.
Cats win 41-20