Last season in Lexington, Western Kentucky came out early and jumped to a 17-0 lead before the whole Kentucky team was off the bus it seemed like. The Hilltoppers then relied on their powerful running game from Antonio Andrews who abused the Wildcats to the tune of 125 yards and 3 TD’s on the ground. Despite a valiant 2nd half comeback by Max Smith and the offense, they fell in OT, cementing Joker Phillips’ legacy a mere 3 weeks into the 2012 season. This was not just a 1 year issue either, in 2011 Kentucky’s running game struggled while WKU RB Bobby Rainey rushed for 105 yards on the ground. Despite being outgained on the ground UK limped to a 14-3 win at LP Field that night.
Kentucky 63, Western Kentucky 28
Kentucky Rushing Yds — 206 (4.7 ypc)
WKU Rushing Yds — 187 (5.7)
Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3
Kentucky Rushing Yds — 93 (2.8)
WKU Rushing Yds — 141 (3.4)
Western Kentucky 32, Kentucky 31 (OT)
Kentucky Rushing Yds — 41 (2.2)
WKU Rushing Yds — 163 (3.3)
As you can see, Kentucky’s rushing production has fallen exponentially since their offensive explosion against WKU in 2010 and the Wildcats’ inability to halt the running game of Western in the last 2 seasons has contributed to one embarrassing loss and another ugly victory.
This is why, despite all the hype surrounding the return of the Air Raid offense to Kentucky, establishing the running game early and often will be a major factor in whether or not Kentucky’s offense will flourish like it did in the 2010 game, or sputter like the last 2 seasons against WKU. Kentucky does have some questions on the OL, but at the same time Bobby Petrino is having to replace WKU’s top 5 defensive lineman from a year ago. If you watched the North Carolina vs. South Carolina game on Thursday night, you may have noticed that once UNC started to gain some first downs with their up-tempo offense, the South Carolina defense was gasping for air for a lot of the 2nd half. This is very similar to what I expect to see from Kentucky later tonight with their tempo, and Western’s inexperienced D-Line will have to keep pace. Add in Jalen Whitlow’s, who’s likely to be the starting QB, and his running ability and Western’s LB corps. will have to contain a QB capable of scrambling along with covering some 4 and 5 WR sets, which should open the passing game up.
On the defensive side of the ball, its simple. STOP ANTONIO ANDREWS. UK’s front 4 on defense is as good as its been since the Myron Pryor-Corey Peters-Jeremy Jarmon days and with WKU replacing the entire strong side of their OL, it will be interesting to see how UK’s veteran D-Line attacks the new guys. If Kentucky can hold Western to under 100 yards rushing I don’t see any way the Hilltoppers can win the game.
So sure, people love to see the Air Raid in action, but with the inexperience for UK at the WR position and an unsure QB situation, expect a heavy dose of Sanders, George, Whitlow, and Kemp on the ground later on tonight. It’s what needs to be done.