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Kentucky at Auburn: Will a Child Lead Us?

The hot topic for the upcoming Auburn game, of course, is who will be under center for the Wildcats?  Unidentified sources out of the UK football camp are speaking highly of the true freshman, Morgan Newton, but Rich Brooks is revealing nothing about who will get the starting nod, merely telling anyone who asks that the decision will probably not be officially made until game day, perhaps even just before kickoff.  But word on the street has it that the decision has been made, even though no confirmation, official or unofficial, seems to be forthcoming.

Of course, that's the smart thing for any head coach to do.  Morgan Newton and Will Fidler bring two radically different skill sets to the game.  Newton is young and does not know the UK offense that well, but he has the superior physical skills, including a pair of legs that made him a Parade All-American, but as an athlete, not a quarterback.

Fidler, on the other hand, is primarily a pocket passer, much like Mike Hartline.  Fidler is a much better fit for the offense that the Wildcats currently run, but he is no real threat to take off and get yards with his feet.  In fact, if it is possible for someone to be less athletic, running wise, than Mike Hartline, it is Will Fidler.  Fidler has a strong arm and knows the offense much better, but he is limited, and he was playing behind Hartline for a reason.

In the end, I expect both QB's to get a number of snaps against Auburn unless one clearly separates himself early.  Auburn will have to prepare not only for a traditional drop-back passer, but a dual-threat quarterback and Randall Cobb in the bargain.  It is an interesting problem for Ted Roof, the Auburn Defensive Coordinator to solve.  One thing is for sure -- the 'Cats will look different on Saturday than they have looked all season.

At this point, nobody knows for sure what Brooks is thinking -- will he go with a trimmed-down offensive package and more athleticism, or try to rely on what has worked so far with a different quarterback at the helm?  There are merits to both strategies, and odds are that we will see a bit of both, particularly if the starter fails to move the football the first couple of series.

But there are even more questions about this game, not the least of which is how UK's green corners, Randall Burden and Martavious Neloms, will hold up in their second game as starters.  The good news is that Paul Warford is improving, but is still questionable for the weekend. Also on the injury ront, offensive guard Jake Lanefski has torn his ACL and will have season-ending surgery, so our depth at guard just took a big hit.

There will be more analysis of this game to come, but from a macro standpoint, this is going to be about the defenses.  Can UK's defense, which is currently last in the SEC in run defense, hold Auburn's SEC second-best running game down to a reasonable level?  For Auburn, their defense must stop a Kentucky running game which isn't exactly awesome, but has been solid.  Auburn is 10th against the run in the SEC, just two spots up from the 'Cats.

Passing-wise, Auburn would seem well-positioned in this game with the second-best passing offense in the league facing the young cornerback tandem that South Carolina exploited to such great effect last weekend.  Statistically, about the only place Kentucky looks good against Auburn is special teams.

No matter who is under center on Saturday, Kentucky will need a terrific effort, every bit as good as they played against South Carolina without the mistakes, and all that with a new quarterback under center, to beat the Tigers in their place.  It is a very tall order, make no mistake.