Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s cross-division showdown between LSU and Kentucky in Baton Rouge.

When: Tonight
Where: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Game Time: 7:30 ET
TV: SEC Network
Current Line: LSU (-10.5)

Game Buzz: LSU will host Kentucky in a battle of unranked SEC foes under the lights in Death Valley, and this game could be a turning point for both programs in 2014. LSU has already lost two SEC games in the first half of the season, and another loss at home to Kentucky could be a crippling blow to their season. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are a team on the rise, and a win over LSU could be their coming out party on a national stage.



Players to watch:

  • QB Patrick Towles
  • RB Jojo Kemp
  • RB Boom Williams
  • WR Ryan Timmons
  • WR Javess Blue
  • WR Demarco Robinson
  • DE Bud Dupree
  • LB Khalid Henderson
  • S A.J. Stamps

Keys for Kentucky:

  • Establish the run early in the game. LSU has struggled to defend strong rushing attacks in losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, and Kentucky has been excellent rushing the ball with four talented tailbacks in Boom Williams, Jojo Kemp, Braylon Heard and Mikel Horton. All four backs present a different threat to the Tigers’ defense, and Kentucky must ride its stable of tailbacks early in the game to control the tone of the action. If the Wildcats run the ball well in the first half, it will open up the entire offense, which would greatly benefit a young offense in a tough road atmosphere.
  • Don’t let Leonard Fournette get into a rhythm. Fournette has run the ball better each week this season, and he’s coming off his best performance in SEC play with 140 yards in last week’s road win over Florida. Kentucky replaced both its starting defensive tackles from last season, and it has been vulnerable at times against downhill runners like Fournette. If he gets going early, it will take the ball out of the hands of LSU’s questionable quarterbacks, allowing them to make simple plays without much opportunity for game-breaking mistakes. Kentucky needs mistakes out of LSU’s quarterbacks, and thus needs to silence Fournette first to force LSU to be a throwing team.
  • Get pressure on the Tigers’ quarterbacks. Anthony Jennings is going to start under center for LSU, but fans could see freshman Brandon Harris at quarterback as well. Regardless of who’s taking snaps, Kentucky needs to pressure LSU’s quarterbacks to force those mistakes it’ll need to win this game. The Tigers’ signal callers have held their offense back all season, and if the Cats can exploit this weakness their defense will have a great chance to improve its already impressive plus-eight turnover margin.

Wildcats’ glaring weakness to watch: Kentucky allowed fellow SEC foes Florida and South Carolina to run all over its defense, and it risks falling victim to the same weakness against Fournette and the Tigers offense. Fournette’s downhill running style is not that different from Florida’s Matt Jones or South Carolina’s Mike Davis, both of whom had career days against UK this season. The Wildcats’ inability to stop these powerful backs has cost them all season, as they suffered their only loss to Florida and almost lost to South Carolina before it abandoned the run game during Kentucky’s fourth quarter comeback. Look for LSU to feed Fournette and its other backs early and often to see if Kentucky has improved at all in its run-stopping abilities.

Most interesting part of this game: Normally, a showdown between Kentucky and LSU in Death Valley at night wouldn’t even be worth discussing, as LSU is a longtime football power and Kentucky is usually entrenched in the start of basketball season by now. However, this season’s macthup is different, with LSU is in a brief rebuilding period and Kentucky surging to the top of the SEC East. LSU’s minor fall back to the pack, and Kentucky’s leap to simply become part of the pack make this a strangely even matchup, and it will be interesting to see how both sides handle that fact.

Team buzz: Kentucky is one win over LSU away from being ranked for next week’s home showdown with No. 1 Mississippi State, and the College GameDay hosts hinted that next week’s show may originate in Lexington for the game against MSU if Kentucky beats LSU this week. It’s been more than five years since Kentucky was last ranked in the top 25, and a win over the Tigers and a subsequent ranking would be a milestone in Mark Stoops’ rapid reshaping of this program. There is more at stake for Kentucky in this game than any other game of the last five years, and the Bluegrass is buzzing with excitement one day after the basketball team celebrated another Big Blue Madness success. Oh, by the way, a win would have Kentucky bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. That would be pretty great for the program, too.


Players to watch:

  • QB Anthony Jennings
  • RB Leonard Fournette
  • RB Kenny Hilliard
  • WR Travin Dural
  • WR Malachi Dupre
  • DT Quentin Thomas
  • LB Kwon Alexander
  • LB Kendell Beckwith
  • S Jalen Collins
  • CB Tre’Davious White

Keys for LSU:

  • Continued improvement from the offensive line. For whatever reason, LSU’s veteran offensive line struggled in the early part of the season. Against Florida, they pulled it together and ran the ball well against a tough Florida run defense. Now that Leoanrd Fournette is more comfortable carrying the load for the Tigers, the line will need to continue gelling to allow LSU’s power running game to flourish. Kentucky has been mediocre defending the run, but with the way teams pack the box against LSU, the Wildcats will have plenty of defenders down by the line.
  • Make it easy for Jennings. Anthony Jennings, for the most part, has been inaccurate all season. Outside of some deep connections with Travin Dural in the first few weeks of the season, Jennings has had a hard time throwing the ball deep with any consistency. Against Florida, Cam Cameron tried to get him going with some short passes to fullbacks and tight ends throughout the game. It didn’t help him all that much, as Jennings was still just 10-for-21 throwing the ball, but he came through with some good, in-rhythm throws on LSU’s final touchdown drive against the Gators. Finding ways to get him some simple throws early in the game could help loosen up the defense, both for those deep balls and to open up the running game.
  • Slow down Kentucky’s running game. LSU’s biggest problem on defense has been an inability to stop the run. They should get defensive tackle Quentin Thomas back from injury today after a two-game absence, which wouldn’t hurt, although the run defense was porous with him in the lineup. Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith have come into their own in recent weeks, and they’ll be needed to contain Kentucky’s talented running backs duo of Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams. Remaining disciplined when the Wildcats run the Wildcat formation will be key.

Tigers’ glaring weakness to watch: The middle of the defense has been soft all season, and it’s caused a ripple effect throughout the rest of the unit. Getting Beckwith into the lineup at middle linebacker full time has helped matters, as he’s far more athletic and physical than D.J. Welter, the man he replaced. If Thomas is back near full strength this week after battling an arm injury in the early part of the season and missing two games, it’ll be a boon to the LSU defense.

Most interesting part of this game: LSU fans thought the future had arrived when Brandon Harris lit up New Mexico State and earned the starting nod the following. After a miserable start against Auburn, he hasn’t seen the field since, with Jennings taking every snap against Florida after taking over in the fourth quarter against the Tigers. Les Miles has said that Harris will see the field again, but it’s unclear when. If LSU’s offense sputters again and they fall behind, the freshman Harris might get a shot at redemption.

Team buzz: The Tigers finally got on the board in the SEC with their narrow win over Florida, but it’s unclear just how good of a win that was with the way the Gators have been struggling. Kentucky is a more dangerous team than Florida, and despite the double-digit spread they can’t be overlooked. This game will go a long way in determining how LSU’s season will end up, and it’ll be crucial for the Tigers to avoid one of the slow starts they’ve made commonplace this season.