This Saturday the Wildcats will kick off their 2014 football season against the UT-Martin Skyhawks. With some major changes in scheme and the depth chart have Kentucky fans guessing as to what exactly this team will look like and this will be the first opportunity to show improvements over the past two seasons that both ended with 2-10 records.
When Kentucky has the ball: The Wildcats will start sophomore Patrick Towles at quarterback for the first time in his career and the staff will likely try to get his confidence up early. The Skyhawks should be over matched at almost every position, so look for Neal Brown to start out with some simple run plays to get some momentum along with a sampling of short, easy competitions to get Towles on target. Once a rhythm is set, the offense should look to open up the play book to allow Kentucky’s speedy receivers and Towles supreme arm – strength to torch the UT-Martin secondary. As the game progresses, plays that get Heard, Kemp, and Timmons in space should become popular calls along with power runs to allow the bigger Kentucky offensive line to overpower the Skyhawk defense. If things play our like they should, Reese Phillips should get plenty of reps in the second half as Kentucky’s offense rolls.
When UT-Martin has the ball: The Skyhawk offense will be rebuilding this season after losing its top rusher and top four receivers from last year. With so much disarray at the skill positions and a still undecided quarterback battle, look for the team to lean on its offensive line and a run-heavy attack. Despite the line being very good for a FCS level team, it should still be no match for Kentucky’s defensive end tandem of Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith and both should be licking their chops right about now. A strong pass-rush will certainly allow the defensive backs to play aggressively and take advantage of a quarterback tandem that threw 12 interceptions last year. While the ends and defensive backs will focus on capitalizing on mistakes in the passing game, this will provide the new-look defensive tackles and linebackers to feel their way out and a climate to playing together for the first time.
Outcome: The Skyhawks are a quality FCS team, but they, should provide little trouble for any SEC school. Massive turnover on the offensive side of the ball will have the staff guessing early, but superior athletes at almost every position will be tough for UT-Martin to overcome. Leaning on stellar outings by the offensive and defensive lines, the Wildcats should win handily as the team adjusts to changes from last season. With such a young team, scheduling two consecutive home games against an FCS school followed by a maac school should help Kentucky grow up with some room for error.
Final score: UK 41 – UT-Martin 10