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September 14, 2012

Cats face upset-minded Hilltoppers at Commonwealth

Coach: Joker Phillips
Record: 12-15 in three seasons at UK, overall
Last game:Kentucky 47, Kent State 14
Next game:at Florida, Sept. 22
Roster | Depth chart
Coach: Willie Taggart
Record: 10-16 in two seasons at WKU, overall
Last game: Alabama 35, WKU 0
Next game: Southern Miss, Sept. 22
Roster | Depth chart
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Commonwealth Stadium (67,606)
TV: ESPNU (Clay Matvick play-by-play, Matt Stinchcomb analyst, Allison Williams sideline)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Jeff Piecoro analysis; Dick Gabriel sideline); Sirius channel 94
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Kentucky by 7

Series Information:
Series record: UK leads 3-0
At Lexington: UK leads 2-0
Coaches' records:Phillips 1-0 vs. WKU; Taggart 0-1 vs. UK

Last meeting
Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3 (Sept. 1, 2011, in Nashville)
The Wildcats left LP Field with a victory, but it didn't feel like one. The offense sputtered to 190 total yards on the night. Kentucky had only seven completions on the night, the same amount of times the Wildcats punted. Things could have been even worse for Kentucky if Hilltopper quarterback Kawaun Jakes hadn't missed a pair of open receivers for touchdowns.

Keys to the Game
1. Line of defense: Kentucky's linebackers always have a lot on their plate, with responsibilities ranging from defensive adjustments to pressuring the quarterback. This week will be an especially stout test, as WKU tight end Jack Doyle will have to be accounted for. He's a Mackey award candidate and leads the Hilltoppers in catches. With senior Taylor Wyndham still adjusting to his move to linebacker, expect most of those duties to other linebackers and some safeties. Once he's accounted for, Jakes still has to be covered. The WKU quarterback can take off and run if presented with open field.

2. Weighed and measured: Western Kentucky isn't a typical Sun Belt team. The Hilltoppers are 8-2 in their last 10 games, with losses only to LSU and Alabama. They won't be at a size disadvantage either, as their offensive line starters average 304 pounds (Kentucky's average 306) and their linebackers average 245 pounds (Kentucky's average 241). WKU went 7-5 a year ago without beating any BCS conference opponents, finding themselves sitting at home in bowl season. Saturday is their last chance to beat a team from a major conference.

3. Committee meeting: Neither team has a running back who will carry the ball 20 times. A healthy CoShik Williams will go first for Kentucky, while Antonio Andrews will start things off for WKU. It can be difficult for a running back to find a rhythm without consistent carries, but fresh legs can also lead to big plays. Breaking a long run on the ground early for either team should open things up downfield for the quarterbacks.

Staff Predictions
Ben Jones, Staff Writer: Kentucky 42, Western Kentucky 28
Deciphering Western Kentucky is a difficult proposition. They haven't beaten any teams from major conferences in the last year, but they haven't had an opportunity like they will on Saturday. Much like Kent State, they'll likely hang around until early in the second half. By that point, a mistake or two could swing momentum Kentucky's ways. Once that happens, Maxwell Smith and the offense won't surrender it.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: Kentucky 38 Western Kentucky 14
It seems Western Kentucky over Kentucky is the upset pick of the week, according to national media and football fans across the Bluegrass. But don't believe the hype. Sure, WKU had six sacks against Alabama, but Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron had nearly as many touchdown passes (four) as incompletions (five). Maxwell Smith isn't McCarron but he's shown he can pick apart defenses, and that will be the case Saturday against the Hilltoppers.

Aaron Smith, Staff Writer: Kentucky 27, Western Kentucky 20 The Wildcats haven't scored a first-quarter touchdown in their previous seven games. That changes against the Hilltoppers. Maxwell Smith gets UK on the board first and has another efficient game in the face of WKU's pressure, the defense has a respectable performance, and Kentucky earns its 2-1 record.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: Kentucky 34, Western Kentucky 21
Yes, Jakes is better than he was a year ago. Yes, the Kentucky defense is worse. But a viable offense is all that stood between the Wildcats cruising past the Hilltoppers last season in Nashville. UK appears to have that now, plus the motivation of WKU's hip-upset-pick status.

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