The 2017 football season is finally here and about to kick off! The Kentucky Wildcats will open their season up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi against Southern Mississippi on Saturday at 4:00 p.m.
The Cats lost their season opener last season against former offensive coordinator and current offensive coordinator against Southern Mississippi last season. The Cats are a lot more mature now, but they will have their hands full to bring the win home from Southern Miss.
If the Cats are going to bring home the victory, here are the five things they need to make sure to do:
1. Contain Ito Smith. The senior running back is back for his last season, and most believe even better than last season. Last season Ito Smith had 36 carries for 173 yards and one touchdown against the Cats in their 44-35 victory over the Cats.
Ito smith rushed for an incredible 1,459 yards in the 2016 season on 265 rushing attempts. Smith also tacked on 17 rushing touchdowns for the Golden Eagles last season. Ito Smith is trying to get his name heard throughout the NFL so you can bet, he will be playing his best on Saturday. If the Cats defense can’t contain Ito Smith, then they will have some problems.
2. Stephen Johnson has to step up. The 6 feet 2 inch, now 185-pound senior quarterback has to be number 2 on the list. Johnson led the cats to a huge win over number 10. Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, and he helped the cats reach their first bowl game since 2008, playing in the Taxslayer Bowl against Georgia Tech.
Last season, Drew Barker did not play very well against Southern Miss. Johnson helped the team to a 7-5 record and he passed for 2,037 yards while racking up 13 touchdowns. The one downfall to Johnson’s play last season was that he had trouble holding onto the football. If Johnson can step-up in this game, I can see the Cats bringing home a W.
3. Control the line of scrimmage. The Cats had a very good season running the ball last season. The Cats had two 1,000-yard rushers, and a quarterback that averaged over 30 yards per game rushing as well.
The thing the Cats need to do in this game to beat the Golden Eagles, they have to control the line of scrimmage again. Yes, Benny Snell will have to be huge. If Benny Snell doesn’t have a good game, chances are the Cats will lose even though A.J. Rose and King are playing well in preseason camp.
The Cats really need to improve on protection in the passing game. Johnson looks like he has improved tremendously from last season throwing the ball, but if he doesn’t have time, it won’t matter a bit. All he needs is four seconds. If Johnson has time and the offensive line does its job, the Cats can win and win big.
4. Benny Snell has to have a big game. Last season Benny Snell was part of the dynamic duo with Stephen “Boom” Williams, both players rushing for over 1,000 yards, while both finished top-10 in the SEC in rushing.
Snell will be looking to have another 1,000-yard rushing season, and what better time to start than now? Last season, Snell didn’t even get a chance against Southern Miss.
Now, not only does Snell have the chance, but he is the key running back and probably most important offensive player on the team. If Benny Snell can have a big game and maybe break a big run or two, then the Cats should be fine against the Golden Eagles.
5. Play for revenge! This key is pretty straightforward and simple. The Cats got beat by a team that should not have beat them last season. Yes, the Cats were only 3-point favorites, but they were better.
As long as Kentucky plays with a chip on their shoulder that is reminding them of what happened last season, then they should be fine.
Kentucky needs to make a statement with this game. This game is showing the fans what they’re in for this season, and it’s showing people that last year truly was a fluke. Shannon Dawson is a very good coach, but I believe he’s going to have to be very good to beat the Cats this season in Hattiesburg.
Kentucky 35 Southern Miss 24