The undefeated Kent State Golden Flashes -- I've always liked that nickname, and if UK weren't already the Wildcats, I'd vote for Golden Flashes as Kentucky's mascot -- make the short trip south to Commonwealth Stadium tonight as the Kentucky Wildcats (0-1) open the home portion of their schedule in a match-up with the MAC.
Kentucky, coming off a tough, 32-14 setback to arch-rival Louisville, will be looking to improve in several areas of play, particularly the defensive side of the ball. The Golden Flashes, on the other hand, have to be filling good about themselves after taking advantage of six Towson turnovers in their 42-21 season-opening victory last week.
For a look at the competition the Wildcats will face in tonight's 7:30 ET kick-off, follow me after the jump.
The Kent State Offense
KSU senior quarterback Spencer Keith (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), who completed 10 of 19 passes for 82 yards last week, leads the Golden Flashes' offense for the second straight year, after last season throwing for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdowns. It's a run-centric offense, though, and although Keith is very accurate (he didn't throw an interception in the final five games of 2011), he'll find himself handing off to a couple of able running backs and one, very dangerous triple-threat weapon, Dri Archer.
Archer, a 5-foot-8, 175 pound senior, is comfortable both running with the ball out of the backfield, catching the ball as a receiver, and returning kicks as the squad's primary kick returner. In last weeks win over Towson, Archer rushed the ball eight times for 54 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and scored two touchdowns; he recorded eight receiving yards and returned two kick-offs, one for 98 yards, the other, 57 yards.
Archer had 217 all-purpose yards in an offense which produced only 267 total yards. He is the guy who can hurt the 'Cats, especially if he's given the amount of space to maneuver UK's defense gave the UofL offense last week.
KSU tailback Trayion Durham will be a challenge unlike many of UK's defensive players have ever encountered; a 250 pound running back, and at only 6-foot-0, Durham is compacted power.
Last week against Towson, Durham ran for 54 yards on 20 carries (2.7 ypc), numbers which are true to his performance last season when he ran for 630 yards on 186 carries (3.4 ypc) and four touchdowns.
Rounding out the Kent State offense is the receiving corps and offensive line: Last week Keith and backup quarterback David Fisher, who was 3-3 for 84 yards and a touchdown, tossed 13 total completions to nine different receivers. Second-year head coach Darrell Hazel likes to spread the ball around, and last week it was Josh Boyle, a 5-foot-9 freshman, who caught KSU's lone touchdown pass, a 63-yard bomb on the first play of the fourth quarter.
As "smallish" as the Golden Flashes' receivers are, KSU's o-line is not lacking in beef, as four of the five players in Kent State's offensive trenches weigh in at 300-plus-pounds. They are also experienced, starting three seniors and two juniors.
The Kentucky defense, deservedly maligned after Louisville employed a scorched earth offensive policy against the 'Cats last week, should be angry and anxious to redeem itself for such an embarrassing performance. It's really just that simple.
Last week KSU managed fewer than 300 yards of total offense. Tonight, UK's D needs to shoot for that number, minus 100 yards.
The Kent State Defense
The front three of the KSU defensive line come into tonight's titanic tilt weighing an average of 263 pounds, and while the Golden Flashes held Towson to 70 rushing yards on 30 carries (2.3 ypc), Kentucky's much bigger o-line should have its way as the trench battle rages.
Junior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix (5-foot-11, 245 pounds), who was second on the team with 8.0 tackles last week, led the Golden Flashes with 4.0 tackles for loss (including a sack), so although the three KSU down linemen are light, their quickness is not to be discounted.
KSU's four starting linebackers did not record tremendous stats last week, as Towson threw the ball on 38 of its 60 offensive plays, but middle linebacker Luke Batton (5-foot-11, 230 pound senior) did record five tackles, leading all linebackers in that category.
The Kent State secondary is littered with mighty-mites, as corner back Norman Wolfe Jr., and free safety Calvin Tiggle, are both under 5-foot-10. Wolfe, Jr., though, registered an interception last week and forced a fumble. But it was the strong safety, junior Luke Wollet (6-foot-0, 198 pounds), who had the most impressive defensive effort against Towson, as he led the team in tackles with nine, intercepted a pass, and recorded two pass break-ups.
Although the KSU defense will want to pressure the 'Cats (the Golden Flashes had four sacks against Towson), in all reality, the Kentucky offensive unit should overcome any stunts Kent State tosses its way. After both throwing effectively, and running the ball with success against UofL, the 'Cats should be in a good place to test running back depth -- considering CoShik Williams is out for the game -- with an appearance by freshman ball carrier Dyshawn Mobley (and possibly fellow freshman back Justin Taylor), and add to the experience level of freshman receiver Daryl Collins and newly discovered wide out Aaron Boyd.
Also, honing the "hurry-up" offense should be on the UK offensive agenda, for the success it showed against Louisville needs to be affirmed against a non-Big East opponent.
There are two former UK football players now involved with the KSU Golden Flashes football program who will make their way back to Lexington this weekend: The first is Eric Adeyemi, a wide receiver who transferred to KSU from Kentucky and is now eligible after sitting out last season, and Tommy Cook, who played at UK from 2000-2005, and was hired in July as KSU's Director of Football Operations after working at UK as a grad assistant and later as assistant Director of Football Ops.
We wish both of these young men nothing but the best ... unless a win today qualifies as "the best."
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!