UK FOOTBALL | Keys to the game for Kentucky vs. UL-Lafayette
09/04/2015 02:49 PM
LEXINGTON — Can you believe it?
COLLEGE. FOOTBALL. IS. BACK!!!
After an eight-month hibernation, the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky return to the gridiron on Saturday night to kick off the 2015 season against the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana Lafayette at 7:00 p.m. ET in Lexington.
A lot of hype surrounds the UK program this season with expectations running high to qualify for a bowl game for the first time in five years, and playing in a newly-renovated stadium has its perks, too — $120 million worth of them.
But before Big Blue Nation gets too far ahead of itself, the Cats to first must take care of a Ragin’ Cajuns squad that won the Sun Belt Conference last season en route to a 9-4 record and 16-3 victory against Nevada in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
Despite UK being a 17-point favorite, ULL is a dangerous opponent the Wildcats can’t afford to overlook, especially with a tough road test against SEC foe South Carolina lurking in Week 2.
So, without further ado, here are our three keys to a Kentucky victory and 1-0 start to the season:
1. Protect Patrick Towles:
When healthy and upright, Patrick Towles impressed as a redshirt sophomore in 2014.
The UK quarterback finished the season amassing 2,718 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air while tacking on and additional 305 yards and a team-high six touchdowns on the ground as well.
A perfect encapsulation of what a healthy Towles can do for UK was his dominant performance against then No. 1 Mississippi State, where he shredded the Bulldog defense for 466 yards total yards, four touchdowns, and (maybe most importantly) zero turnovers:
KSTV already predicted Towles to be an All-SEC quarterback in 2015, and a big factor in that will be the protection he receives from the offensive line.
If Patrick has protection, he should have no problem against UL-Lafayette’s pass defense which ranked No. 122 in the nation last season by surrendering 285 yards per game.
2. “Boom” Goes the Williams:
The 2015 season will also be “The Year of ‘Boom.’”
Stanley “Boom” Williams showed flashes of superstardom during his true freshman campaign in 2014, highlighted by his cross-field, oh-my-goodness-we-might-finally-beat-Florida overtime catch-and-run against the Gators:
Williams’ touches were both limited and sporadic throughout the season as fought to climb a loaded depth chart, but a strong 126-yard, two-touchdown performance against rival Louisville in the 2014 season finale gave him a head start in claiming the starting job for 2015 — a spot he solidified last month during fall camp.
New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson plans on calling a run-heavy air raid attack — à la Chip Kelly at Oregon and the Philadelphia Eagles — and with Williams as his feature back, “Boom” could become a household name in 2015.
If the Wildcats can get Williams 15-20 touches, he should have no problem finding room to run against the Ragin’ Cajuns and will also help take pressure off Towles and the passing game.
Terrance Broadway was an all-everything quarterback for UL-Lafayette last season, passing for 2,295 yards and 13 touchdowns while running for another 804 — Yes, 804 rushing yards! — and three touchdowns on the ground.
The good news for Kentucky is that the senior signal quarterback has graduated out of the program, leaving ULL with a mostly-untested new starter under center this season in Brooks Haack.
Haack, a junior, only attempted a total of 58 passes during his freshman and sophomore seasons for 400 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception while serving as Broadway’s backup.
With former defensive stars Alvin “Bud” Dupree and Za’Darius Smith now playing on Sundays in the NFL, Kentucky will need to depend on a talented, but inexperienced, front seven to pressure Haack into bad decisions in only his second-ever collegiate start.
Yes, UL-Lafayette had a great season in 2014, but Saturday is the start of a new year.
With a healthy Patrick Towles, an electric Boom Williams, and an untested quarterback on the other side of the ball, the Wildcats should have success against the Rajin’ Cajuns and celebrate the opening of the new Commonwealth Stadium with a Week 1 victory.
- SCORE PREDICTION: Kentucky 28, UL-Lafayette 17