Matchup breakdown: Kentucky's offensive line vs. UT Martin linebacker Tony Bell
In preparation for Saturday’s season-opener between Kentucky and UT Martin, Saturday Down South is taking a look at the key matchups that may decide the showdown between the Wildcats and the Skyhawks.
Kentucky offensive line (without Darrian Miller) vs. UT Martin linebacker Tony Bell
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops released his depth chart for Saturday’s showdown with UT Martin at his press conference Monday, announcing in the process that the Cats would take on the Skyhawks without senior left tackle Darrian Miller.
Miller had started 24 straight games for UK prior to his suspension this week for what Stoops called a violation of team rules. The rest of Kentucky’s offensive line will now have to find a way to compensate for the loss of their most experienced and consistent lineman. Jordan Swindle will start at left tackle in Miller’s place, and redshirt freshman Kyle Meadows will start his first career game at right tackle.
Kentucky’s mixed-up offensive line will be tested by UT Martin linebacker Tony Bell, whom Stoops mentioned by name when discussing UT Martin during his press conference.
Bell is a 6-foot-1, 200-pound athlete who can play all over the field. He recorded 80 tackles in 2013 – including a conference-high 15 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks – and also forced three fumbles. He proved he is capable of excelling against FBS competition, registering five tackles for loss in a game against Boise State last season.
Stoops, a former defensive coordinator, recognized the threat Bell presents on the Skyhawks’ defense.
“He’s a great linebacker but he’s a great pass rusher as well. He’s like Bud,” Stoops said in his press conference. “He’s an exceptional football player. He could play anywhere in the country.”
He’ll be playing in Lexington on Saturday, and could cause fits for a UK offensive line combination looking to find cohesion without its top talent. The Cats allowed 37 sacks in 12 games last season, an average of more than three per game, and last year’s starting quarterback, Jalen Whitlow, is much more mobile and elusive than current starter Patrick Towles.
Kentucky will look to begin the new season with a bang, turning the page from last year’s 2-10 struggle. However, if Bell is able to consistently beat Swindle and Meadows off the edge, it could cause UK serious issues in its Air Raid offense.
If Bell begins to dominate this matchup, look for Towles to get the ball out of his hands quickly, and for a new back to establish himself as Raymond Sanders’ replacement as the pass protecting back. Tight ends Steven Borden and Ronnie Shields could also be held back to help in pass protection.