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Opponent Breakdown: Kentucky Wildcats

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Kentucky will need to play their best game of the season to become bowl eligible. Will their seniors step up in a big rivalry game?

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Stoops has really done an impressive job f bringing some excitement to the Kentucky football program in his second year. He has improved the level of talent on the field and this season he finally ended the drought of SEC wins. If he really wants to make a big splash with the fans and in the eyes of the national media, a road win against a ranked rival that would get his team to a bowl game might help just a bit.

OFFENSE

Patrick Towles stepped into the starting role this season and he immediately showed that he was an upgrade from the Jalen Whitlow/Max Smith combination from last year. Towles is a big quarterback that can get the ball downfield when needed and he can also run the ball well enough that Neal Brown can run read option pretty regularly. Towles isn't  a completely polished quarterback but he does do a good job of not making bad passes and hitting open receivers. If needed, he can deliver the deep ball pretty well with good touch. What is somewhat surprising is the fact that he doesn't get a ton of zip on his short passes. His arm is plenty strong, but maybe he doesn't have the best accuracy if he tries to uncork it. Towles is a talented player, but he is being woefully misused by Neal Brown. He has run the ball twice as much as the team's leading rusher and instead of speeding up the offense to try to create mismatches and blown coverages, Brown wastes the talent and speed Towles has around him. He's a very good talent at the quarterback position, but what's the point if he doesn't get to put the ball in the hands of the playmakers.

The Wildcats have four viable running backs that are all completely wasted by Neal Brown. Braylon Heard scored two long touchdowns on his first two carries of the season, but hasn't been the focal point of the running game. JoJo Kemp ran the ball down the throat of the South Carolina defense in a big upset then saw his carries immediately get cut the next game. Mikel Horton has been a consistent big back averaging more than 5 yards per carry, but he is rarely used before the fourth quarter. And then there's Stanley Boom Williams. Boom is the most explosive player UK has on their roster and he only gets 7 offensive touches a game. Towles averages 14 carries per game. None of the four backs for UK even averages 7 carries a game. You can't expect an offense to reach its potential when you don't put the ball in the hands of its best players. Boom is that for this UK offense. Heard and Kemp are more traditional backs that can take a beating running inside the tackles if need be. Kemp prove that when he ran the same "Wildcat" play over and over again to close out USC. But Brown continues to run read option plays with Towles routinely keeping the ball and getting marginal gains. If that continues this week, Louisville's run defense will be able to avoid having to deal with the edge runs that Notre Dame killed them with.

Two years ago there was a solid argument over who was the best offensive player in the state of Kentucky. Most felt that James Quick was the obvious choice for that distinction, but Ryan Timmons wasn't a bad argument either. Timmons immediately became a focal point of UK's offense and his speed and quickness were a welcome addition to an offense that was lacking in both areas. Timmons has still not made the big plays some expected from him, but he does give Brown an option to be exotic with. Javess Blue is UK's deep threat and he has had a solid year in that role for the offense. Blue has solid size and good speed but his route running and body control are what set him apart. He has the ability to make the spectacular play and Towles has shown that he trust him to bring the ball down if he puts it up there. Demarco Robinson is the veteran of the group and has the ability to take a short pass and turn it into a big gain if given the space. The rest of the guys at receiver are also plenty capable of having a big game. The question, as always, is will Brown call a game that allows for that to happen.

The offensive line is the weak spot of this offense. They have a mix of veterans and young players and none have done much to deserve much fanfare. Darian Miller has been a mainstay at left tackle for years and I'm not sure if he's any better than he was four years ago. Zach West was a highly touted recruit like Miller but the two of them make up an "ok" left side of the line when they should probably be pretty dominant by now. Jordan Swindle is regarded at the best of the group at right tackle but he has missed some time due to injury. With Todd Grantham's exotic blitzes, offensive line play will be a big factor in the game. If the line can give Towles time, he could have some success getting big plays against a defense that has been gashed lately.

KEY PLAYERS: QB Patrick Towles, RB Boom Williams, WR Ryan Timmons, WR Javess Blue

DEFENSE

There's not a lot of positive to say about a defense that has given up 113 points in their last two games. They've also given up at least 40 points in four of the last five games. They have one of the worst redzone defenses in the country, only stopping the opposing team from scoring twice all year. Their third down defense is in the bottom third of the nation, also. They aren't particularly good at anything specific and they've folded against good competition. However, they do have some players that could cause problems for Louisville's offense.

Bud Dupree and Zadarius Smith are two solid pass rushers that use their speed and length to get around the corner and get to the quarterback. Dupree has even been mentioned lately as a potential first round pick. Stoops doesn't blitz very much, so he asks a lot out of his line and Dupree has delivered pretty well this year with 6.5 sacks. Smith has been alright on the opposite side, but I'm sure Stoops would like to see more consistency. Former Trinity star Jason Hatcher replaces Dupree as a down linemen in certain sets. He has a good skill set but lacks the size to really hold his ground against the run. The defensive tackles for UK have been an improvement from the starters from previous years, but none have done much to make plays in the backfield. They have done a good job of holding up blockers and letting linebackers run free.

If you would have told me two years ago that Josh Forrest would have over 100 tackles in a season I would've laughed in your face. Forrest was a wide receiver when he arrived at UK and he has turned himself into a viable linebacker in this defense. Forrest is a big time hitter and he can run very well in space. His issues show up when he's asked to do things that it takes experience to master. He bites on playaction way too often. He gets lost in the wash because he doesn't do well with using his hands. He also, gets over aggressive and overruns plays at times. The positive for Forrest against UofL is that aggressive, speedy linebackers have had big games all year. Louisville's offensive line has trouble getting to the second level and guys have been left to run free and make plays. Forrest could have a big game if that continues.

The other linebackers for UK haven't done too much this season. Khalid Henderson and Ryan Flannigan have split time and they've combined for almost 100 tackles, and that's about it. They haven't made many impact plays and they are both liabilities in coverage. With slant routes and crosses being a staple of the offense, Bobby Petrino will likely focus on attacking this spot.

The secondaries of Boston College and Notre Dame were both very suspect going into the last two games but UK's might be worse than both. A.J. Stamps, Ashley Lowery, and Marcus McWilliams have been fairly good at safety for the Wildcats but the cornerbacks have been beaten constantly all season. Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller haven't been very good since they got to UK and they still aren't the types of talent that can matchup against top level wide receivers. The run defense has been so bad this year that the secondary hasn't been tested very much. But when they have they have bombed those tests. Tennesse threw for nearly 300 yards with an inexperienced quarterback. Georgia only had 3 incompletions even though they run the ball 42 times a game. Even Jeff Driskel threw for 295 yards and three TDs. The Cats don't have much of a pass rush, but I don't think it would matter much if they did. Their corners are undersized and their safeties don't cover ground very well. Louisville should have success this week even though Reggie Bonnafon didn't do to well progressing through his reads against Notre Dame.

KEY PLAYERS: DE/LB Bud Dupree, MLB Josh Forrest, FS A.J. Stamps

Notes

  • Ashley Lowery still hasn't been disciplined for almost killing himself in a DUI accident.
  • Lloyd Tubman was arrested earlier this season and charged with rape.
  • Before the season, Neal Brown said that "We’re the show in town" when speaking of UofL.
  • Neal Brown is the offensive coordinator for a team that has a losing steak to the other two FBS schools in Kentucky.
  • No UofL player has played against UK and lost. None of the fifth year seniors played in the 2010 matchup.