If you haven't already, I encourage everyone to read a2d2's first front page post as an author on A Sea of Blue, Cloudy With a Chance of Football. It can be found here, or simply scroll down the page.
After last Saturday's lackluster 14-3 win over WKU, a performance which saw the 'Cats struggle mightily with a mid-level Sun Belt squad, coach Joker Phillips and staff, as well as an ever-nervous fan base, anxiously awaits UK to execute a bit of bounce back-ability in their game versus the Central Michigan Chippewas (1-0) this afternoon in Commonwealth Stadium (noon kickoff on ESPNU).
Against the Hilltoppers, in only their third year of FBS play, Kentucky's vaunted offensive line showed serious signs of strain, as every o-line starter experienced some type of injury in fall camp, limiting their practice time together as a unit. Because of the o-line's struggles, quarterback Morgan Newton's numbers took a hit, and UK's top two running backs, Raymond Sanders and freshman Josh Clemons, combined to average less than three-yards per carry. The Big Blue receiving corps, led by junior La'Rod King, also literally dropped the ball versus WKU, blowing more than one chance to put the Tops away.
UK's second chance to make a good first impression comes today, though. With a resounding victory, the 'Cats and 'Cat fans alike can comfortably put the WKU "experience" behind them. Struggle, though, and thoughts of Anthony Davis and the hardwood will occupy the minds of Kentucky sports fans.
Leading the Chippewa charge to disappoint UK football fans will be junior quarterback Ryan Radcliff (6'3" 215lbs). In CMU's 21-6 win over FCS opponent South Carolina State last week, Radcliff completed 14 of 27 passes for 168 yards, and tossed two touchdowns and two interceptions. But don't allow Radcliff's modest beginning to 2011 to fool, dear spectators; last year, Radcliff's first as a starter, he ranked 12th nationally in passing yards per game with 279.8, and 15th in total passing yards with 3,358 on the season. Radcliff also had two monster games against eventual bowl teams, throwing three touchdowns against both Virginia Tech and Navy.
On the other end of Radcliff's passes will be a strong cast of receivers (nine CMU receivers caught passes last week), a running back with both speed and power, and a penchant for snagging passes out of the air.
Let's begin with the receiving corps: Cody Wilson, a speedy 5'10" junior, led CMU with four receptions last week, good for 53 yards and a touchdown. Last season, Wilson was named an All-MAC second team performer after recording 1,137 receiving yards (3rd highest single-season total in school history), and six games with at least 100-yards receiving. Against Navy last season, Wilson got radical, catching 13 passes (3rd highest single game total in CMU history). Helping out Wilson in the receiving corps will be freshman Titus Davis, who last week began his career rather auspiciously with a 67-yard touchdown catch (his first and only reception of the game).
On the ground, running back Zurlon Tipton (no relation to Jerry) is the man the 'Cats will have to deal with today. At 6'1" 222lbs, Tipton will run over a would be tackler, or make the edges with his speed (he also returns kickoffs -- last week three for 99 yards). On the ground versus SCSU, Tipton ran for 73 yards on 18 carries (4.1 yards per carry), and proved to be a top passing target out of the backfield by catching two passes for 14 yards (7.0 yards per reception). Trinity High School alum, sophomore running back Tim Phillips (5'5," 166lbs), is the other Chippewa who will carry the mail for coach Dan Enos. Rushing the ball 11 times last week, Phillips gained 25 yards (2.9 ypc).
Defensively, CMU is led by defensive back Jahleel Addae (5'11," 195lbs). Versus SCSU, Addae had six tackles and one pass breakup. Last season, though, Addae led the Chippewas with 10-tackle games against Temple, Ball State, and Navy, and totaled 80 tackles on the year (3rd on the team). Senior linebacker Armond Staten (6'1," 219lbs), who last year tied for second nationally with five forced fumbles, is the man the Wildcat ball carriers want to avoid. Obviously a hard hitter who relishes contact, Staten is a relentless pursuer who never gives up on a play. Also starting at linebacker will be freshman Cody Lopez, who had a nice first college game last week, recording six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Finally, the man UK's offensive line must handle today is 6'1," 260lb d-lineman Steve Winston. Last week versus SCSU, Winston led CMU with seven tackles, 1.0 tackles for loss, and .5 sacks. After the push and penetration WKU got on the 'Cats' offensive line last week, Winston poses a serious threat to the health and well-being of quarterback Morgan Newton if UK's o-line doesn't improve their performance.
The Truth and Nothing But the Truth
For the Kentucky Wildcats, this game is all about getting well, getting redemption, and getting ready for Louisville and beyond. The WKU debacle can and will be put it the rear-view mirror with a solid performance today by the 'Cats, but if UK falters, the confidence of the players will surely suffer, and the confidence the fans have in the players will diminish to essentially non-existent. And that's just no good for anybody.
Prediction: UK 28 CMU 17
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats