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Know the Foe: Kent State at Kentucky

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OK, for the rest of the week starting tomorrow, I have no idea when or if I will be able to blog.  It is the annual golf trip, which consists of 4 days of more or less continuous golf.  36 holes/day, 4 days in a row.  You younger guys probably don't think that's a big deal, but when you hit your 5th decade on this earth, it can be, shall we say, more physically demanding.  Anyway, its with friends, so it's always fun.

But UK has a game this weekend, and against an opponent that isn't quite the pushover that EKU was, either on paper or in reality.  We will take a more in-dept look at this game, since some people whom I respect have described it as a "trap" game, a game where if UK starts thinking about anything other than Kent State (like, say, Louisville next week), we could get upset.  I think Brooks has the team properly focused, but I'll share my thoughts about what we should be looking for.

The Kent State Offense

Kent State has a genuine offense lead by two skilled players, Julian Edelman and Eugene Jarvis.  Edelman is a double-threat quarterback, able to run and throw the ball with great efficiency.  Jarvis is a tiny 5'5"/170# jitterbug with quickness and good instincts.  Edelman and Jarvis combined for 188 yards against Iowa State, and Jarvis threw for an additional 161 yards at a 65% completion percentage.  Last game, Edelman threw to no less than 7 different receivers including Jarvis, with TE Tom Sitko and WR Phil Garner his favorite targets last week.

Kent State ranked 39th in rushing yardage last year at over 158 yards/game.  This will be a serious test for our newly revamped defensive line.  Kent only averaged about 162 yards passing last year, which is good enough for only 97th overall, but since our defense was 102nd in pass efficiency defense last year, this will be a chance for us to see if there is improvement there, and how the loss of E.J. Adams and Marcus McClinton will affect our secondary.

The Kent State Defense

Kent State's defense is one of the main reasons for success.  Just to put it in simple terms, if our defense had been as good last year as Kent State's, we would have won at least two more games.

Kent State was 5th in the nation in pass efficiency defense last year.  They had two players ranked in the top 100 in pass interceptions last year, and both those players are back.  Two players picked off passes last weekend at Iowa State, and although they did lose some experience in the secondary, they will be a good early-season test for André Woodson and the receiving corps.  Woodson will need to be especially careful not to throw into coverage, or his passing streak without an interception will surely end on Saturday.

Kent State was solid last year in scoring defense, checking in at 24th nationally in that statistic.  Keep in mind, this is the same statistic that UK was next to last (118th) in last year.  Bottom line - Kent State's defense is tough and will challenge our offense.

Kent is somewhat weaker in rushing defense, however, and that bodes well for Kentucky's resurgent running game.  If we can move the ball on the ground, Kent State's quick secondary will not be able to lay back and try to poach passes -- they'll have to play us honest, and that will give us an edge.

Kentucky wins this game if:

  1. Little, Dixon, Smith and Locke continue to impress running the football;
  2. Our defensive line and linebackers can keep Edelman from running wild;
  3. We don't overpursue on defense.  This is a very quick but small team, and overpursuit will produce big plays for Kent.  We must be mindful of their quickness.
  4. We improve on special teams.  Our punt and kickoff runbacks were nothing special last weekend.  We need to produce more.  It goes without saying that our kicking must improve.

Kentucky loses this game if:

  1. Kent State runs the ball well.  They play a controlled game, and can keep defenses on the field a long time.  Kent's quarterback is better on the ground than in the air -- he threw two INT's last game;
  2. Kentucky allows Kent to convert on 3rd down;
  3. Kentucky fails to score in the red zone.  Kent's red zone defense was excellent against Iowa State;
  4. Kentucky turns the ball over.

Overall chance of victory:  78%. 

Predicted score:  38-10 Kentucky