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September 1, 2011

Cats face Hilltoppers in season opener

KENTUCKY vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY
Site: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn. (68,798; tickets available)
Game time: 9:15 p.m.
Coaches: Joker Phillips, Kentucky (6-7 in second season at UK and overall); Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky (2-10 in second season at WKU and overall).
Depth charts: Kentucky Western Kentucky
TV: ESPNU
Radio:Big Blue Sports Network; XM 199; Sirius 220 (Sirius Premier Package required)
Internet stream: ESPN3

Kentucky will win if…
New defensive coordinator Rick Minter promises to bring an attacking scheme that will confuse offenses. The WKU offensive line is suspect, and quarterback Kawaun Jakes is subpar in the passing game. Shutting down the passing game early should allow Kentucky to drop an extra defender into the box, which should be critical in stopping the WKU ground attack.

Offensively, quarterback Morgan Newton figures to be the key to the season. A strong start from him would boost his confidence and could put the game out of reach early enough for Kentucky fans to make the drive back to Lexington on Thursday night. Even if he struggles, a stable of running backs

The Wildcats are heavy favorites in this one, and for good reason. Even if the Hilltoppers can get off to a fast start and match Kentucky in the first half, the Wildcats' superior depth should prevail eventually. There's no reason to think Kentucky should lose this game.

Western Kentucky will win if…

Senior tailback Bobby Rainey will have to play like a man on fire to give WKU a chance. He showed in 2010 that he's entirely capable of doing that, racking up 184 rushing yards and two scores on the Wildcats. He'll need to put up a similar performance. But even though the offense scored a respectable 28 points, the defense never gave them a chance. Kentucky led 35-7 after Rainey scored first and the Hilltoppers didn't get closer than 21 points after that.

The defense will have to do better for WKU to have a chance. New defensive coordinator Lance Guidry should have some new wrinkles to throw at the Wildcats. If Kentucky's offensive line isn't settled after a fall camp in which it was decimated by injuries, Newton's protection could be suspect. If Kentucky's young skill position players haven't developed as advertised, the offense could sputter. That could be the opening Western needs.

Key matchup: WKU cornerback Tyree Robinson vs. Kentucky wide receiver La'Rod King
Robinson was the Hilltoppers' best corner last year even though he was a freshman. King is stepping into a new role as the No. 1 wideout. If Robinson can blanket King and take away Newton's biggest target, it'll throw the entire offense off-kilter. If King can stretch the field, though, the floodgates could open on the WKU defense.

Cats Illustrated Predictions:
Ben Jones, Staff Writer: Kentucky 48, WKU 14
Kentucky should have too much for WKU to handle. The Wildcats are more talented, deeper and have at least as much experience. Rainey could keep things interesting, but UK should come out on top - easily.

Steve Jones, Recruiting Editor: Kentucky 42, WKU 13
I am expecting a big season from Morgan Newton - one similar to what Andre' Woodson had as a junior in 2006 - and think UK will have a big confidence-boosting game for its offense in the opener with Newton throwing for three touchdowns. Rick Minter's new defense will be more exciting to watch and force the action, but the learning curve of a new system will lead to at least one blown assignment and a long TD for the Hilltoppers.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: Kentucky 38, WKU 14
Expect the UK offense to look rusty in its season opener, but expect a much faster defense with more blitzing. I believe the defense or special teams will record at least one touchdown. The offense will have success in the passing game but the running game could have some question marks.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: Kentucky 34, WKU 10
Rainey is a nice test for UK's new-look defense right out of the gate. Expect a fired-up defensive effort that will, at times, overwhelm an overmatched opponent. The Kentucky offense should have its early struggles as Newton looks for a rhythm and an offensive line that was patchwork in preseason adjusts to having its five starters in play.


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