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October 21, 2011

Cats hope to avoid upset, snap streak

JACKSONVILLE STATE at KENTUCKY
Site: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky. (67,942)
Game time: 12:00 p.m.
Coaches: Joker Phillips, Kentucky (8-11 overall, second year at UK and overall), Jack Crowe, Jacksonville State (79-49 overall, twelfth year at Jacksonville State)
Series history: First meeting
Depth charts: Kentucky, Jacksonville State
TV: ESPNU
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network, XM 200, Sirius 220 (Sirius Premier package), radio stream at UKathletics.com
Internet video stream: None

Kentucky will win if?
The Wildcats, for the first time in over a month, will hold a talent advantage when they take the field on Saturday. They've also had two full weeks to rest, prepare a game plan, and fine tune their offensive schemes. If Morgan Newton comes out firing and his receivers can hold on to the ball, the Jacksonville State defense will be put on its heels. Losing freshman tailback Josh Clemons for the season hurts, but the trio of Raymond Sanders, CoShik Williams and Jonathan George should be able to pick up the slack against an FCS opponent.

The UK defense has been solid at times this season before becoming malleable late in games against tough opponents. But the Gamecocks won't have the star power of South Carolina and they won't physically overpower the defense like LSU did. Danny Trevathan and his crew will have to mind their fundamentals and stay in their gaps to stop Jacksonville State's running attack. There's no go-to receiver on this offense, so attacking the quarterback is the key to stopping the passing game. Getting Collins Ukwu back, though he will be limited, should help as well.

For weeks, Kentucky has tried to limit mistakes and wait for their opponents to turn the ball over. Joker Phillips' squad needs to play clean, but they also need to take some shots to put the pressure on Jacksonville State. If those shots work, Kentucky could go up big early and reinvigorate its offense. If they backfire, it'll be another muddled affair like we saw in the first three weeks in the season.

Jacksonville State will win if?
Kentucky will have the overall talent advantage, but the Gamecocks have some serious playmakers. Washaun Ealey, of course, torched the Kentucky defense for five touchdowns last year. Quarterback Coty Blanchard can make things happen with his legs, but he's also completing 60 percent of his passes. That backfield tandem means Rick Minter's defense will have its hands full.

Jacksonville State's defense is balanced. There are eight players with a sack, but no one has more than one. What they do well, though, is force turnovers. They have 10 interceptions and five fumble recoveries in six games. If there are any mistakes made by the Kentucky, they'll be ready to pounce. And while the UK defense has played well at times, they've shown that they can only do so much when forced to defend a short field without much time off between series'.

Kentucky is still a better team than Jacksonville State. But there are mismatches in Jacksonville State's favor, and they'll remain competitive for as long as they can exploit those. Blanchard's running ability could give the UK defense fits as well, though he might be bottled up by the speed of Trevathan and Winston Guy. Even if the Wildcats struggle, they can still win. But it won't be as easy as we expected in August.

Key matchup: Kentucky LBDanny Trevathan vs. Jacksonville State RB Washaun Ealey
The two marquee players in this one will see plenty of each other, and they'll both be trying to prove something. Trevathan will want redemption from last year's loss to Georgia in which Ealey smashed the Wildcats. Ealey will want a repeat, but it would mean far more this time. Georgia beating Kentucky isn't an upset, no matter who carries the ball. If Ealey can engineer another performance like he had in 2010, he'll make national headlines.

Cats Illustrated staff predictions:

Ben Jones, Staff Writer: Kentucky 21, Jacksonville State 12
Jacksonville State is an FCS team, but they're not going to be a pushover. The Gamecocks are almost certainly better than Western Kentucky, and the Hilltoppers gave UK everything it could handle in the opener. This game should be a good measuring stick for Kentucky. If they've improved in the last three weeks, it will show easily in this game. If the Wildcats, particularly the offense, are still treading water, it'll be a long day.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: Kentucky 13, Jacksonville State 12
An ugly score for what I expect to be an ugly game. We won't see Kentucky erupt offensively against the Gamecocks. Six games in, the Cats are what they are - a deeply flawed offensive team that's unlikely to erupt against any defense. Is UK better than it was in week one against Western Kentucky? Yes, and it will need to be. But this game means as much to Jacksonville State as to Kentucky, and the Gamecocks will come out believing they can win. Their confidence will keep the game close, but UK narrowly avoids an embarrassing upset.

Steve Jones, Recruiting Editor, Kentucky 21, Jacksonville State 13
The Gamecocks, who average 31.3 points and 209.7 rushing yards per game, are a dangerous opponent for UK, which has struggled so much all season and now has lost Clemons. But even though Jacksonville State is No. 8 in the FCS, let's not forget that the Wildcats still play - quite literally - a whole different class of
football than JSU. UK is a major college team made up of players who were recruited by other major colleges. The Cats should have an advantage at nearly every position, expect running back, and they'll have a home crowd behind them - albeit a relatively sparse one. Now do I expect a blowout? No, because the Cats haven't shown the ability to score enough points to win any game by three or more touchdowns. But as for the final result, UK will come out on top. One thing that could help the Cats' cause would be a standout play in the return game, and the increased role of speedster Daylen Hall, who was a special teams whiz at St. Xavier High School last year, will lend a boost.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: Kentucky 34, Jacksonville State 10
For the first time in nearly a month UK returns home but how will the struggling Cats look against FCS opponent Jacksonville State? If UK doesn't play better than its played in its four-game losing streak, an upset could happen, sending the Cats well past rock bottom. I expect the off week to help UK work out some offensive kinks, and the Gamecocks haven't faced a defense as fast or big as UK's. While a UK win won't stop the bleeding, it will keep the Cats on life support, at least for another week.


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