Published September 8, 2011 - 3:09pm
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The Kentucky Wildcats (1-0) will return to Commonwealth Stadium this weekend to open their home schedule for the 2011 season. They will host the Central Michigan Chippewas (1-0) on Saturday at 12:00 pm with ESPNU carrying all the action.
The Wildcats return home from a win over Western Kentucky in Nashville, TN that left fans disappointed and confused. It was a game in which the offensive line couldn’t keep the Hilltoppers out of the backfield and the wide receivers couldn’t catch the ball, but special teams and the defense kept Western away from the endzone and helped Kentucky walk away with a win.
The Chippewas will enter the Bluegrass State following a 21-6 victory over South Carolina State. CMU had impressive performances on both sides of the ball and were led by sophomore running back Zurlon Tipton (73 yards, TD) and junior quarterback Ryan Radcliff (168 passing yards, 2 TDs).
How can the Cats claw out a victory?
Since the Cats opened the season on a Thursday night, that gave the Big Blue Nation an extra day to voice their complaints. In the past week, we have heard Morgan Newton claim that he didn’t play as bad as he thought he was playing, we have seen offensive line coach Mike Summers get into a heated disagreement with a beat writer, and we have heard La’Rod King say that he doesn’t care what the fans say. I don’t claim to be a football genius, but none of those things scream confidence too me.
If King and Summers and the rest of this team are tired of hearing the fans complain about their performance on the field, they need to come out and get things right from the first snap to the final buzzer. Winning early equals winning, and anytime you let an inferior opponent come in and control the pace of the game and keep your fans out of the game, then trouble is on the horizon.
My idea of winning early is getting your best players on the field first. They won’t have much control in the matter, but winning the coin toss and choosing to kick the ball will get Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and the rest of the defense on the field. CMU has seen the tapes of our game with WKU and if they didn’t think they had a chance, they wouldn’t make the trip to Lexington. By getting the defense on the field early and forcing the Chippewas to punt (or turn the ball over) early, any confidence they brought with them will begin to evaporate. Look for Rick Minter to have his guys fired up and out for blood early on.
The second key for the Wildcats is controlling the line of scrimmage on offense. Last week, the running game was practically non-existent. Morgan Newton was under so much pressure that he decided one time it was better to just fall down as opposed to getting leveled again. The offensive line was hit hard by the injury bug in days leading up to the game, but that was no excuse for the poor execution that allowed Newton to be sacked three times and bottled up the offense (which produced only 190 total yards). This week, they need to set the tone and push the Chippewas around and open holes for Raymond Sanders and Josh Clemmons to eat up yards on the ground. They also have to give Newton the chance to make better decisions and find his open receivers.
The offensive line wasn’t the only unit that struggled against WKU. The wide receivers looked awful too. It was so bad, that Winston Guy was tied for the team high in catches. Nothing against Guy, but he plays defense and it is never a good thing when your linebacker leads you in catches.
Junior La’Rod King flashed signs of greatness last season, but that was when he was the fourth option. This is 2011 and King is the man on this offense and he has to step up and prove it. Head Coach Joker Phillips stated this week that he thought that the receivers play against the Hilltoppers was embarrassing and added that King along with Gene McCaskill and Matt Roark didn’t play as physically as he wanted.
So what do you do when you’re embarrassed with someone’s performance? You give somebody else a chance. Phillips said that he plans on giving true freshman DeMarco Robinson and Juniors E.J. Fields and Aaron Boyd a chance to prove they can get it done.
The win last Thursday could have been more celebrated than critiqued had just a few balls been caught instead of bouncing out of the hands of Roark and King. This Saturday, those men will get a chance to redeem themselves and if they can’t get it done against CMU, we shouldn’t plan on them getting it done against Louisville or the SEC. For this group, it all boils down to catching the ball.
Finally, the Cats coaching staff has to get on the same page. The big question of the offseason was how will the co-defensive coordinators work out. We are starting to see more and more that Rick Minter is the defensive coordinator and Steve Brown is an intern with a high salary and fancy title.
Now that we have seen that the defense has taken well to the changes, it is time for the offense to come into it’s own. I’m not completely sure who is calling the plays, but against WKU, the offense ran 20 – 1st down plays: 13 rushes for 24 yard and 7 passes for 14 yards, 1 interception and 1 sack. By leaning so heavily on the run (that wasn’t working very well) and not executing the pass, the Cats created their biggest problem of the night – 2nd and long. A fifty/fifty split isn’t necessary, but there has to be some thing that can be done to mix things up and prevent the defense from being able to sit back and wait on the play to come to them. Throw in some screen passes or, dare I say, the “Wildcat” package.
I feel confident that the Wildcats will perform much better this weekend. Going on the field and doing their jobs should be more than enough.
Hopefully this offense will give Newton the boost he needs to be a leader and build his confidence as the Cats prepare for the biggest game of the season against Louisville in week three.
Prediction: Kentucky 35 Central Michigan 10