Well, I imagine when you were looking at the SEC conference schedule before the season began, you didn’t expect to see Kentucky tied for first place after five weeks. Boy, have things changed in the Eastern division. Coming off the huge win over Florida in Lexington, for the first time since 1986, the Wildcats are sitting pretty, with the LSU Tigers coming to town.
If you watched the entire game on Saturday night, you saw a Kentucky team that continued to cause problems for the Gators, even if they don’t show up in the box score. On defense, Josh Pashcal continues to wreak havoc on opposing offenses, while the Wildcats special teams unit came up clutch, with a blocked field goal, returned for a touchdown. It just felt like one of those nights where craziness would prevail and Florida was going to fall on the sword. Seriously, I wouldn’t have picked Kentucky if I knew they would only throw for 87 yards total, with an interception as well. But, this is what happens when you keep giving yourself an opportunity to capitalize off your opponents’ mistakes.
So, now the attention moves on to LSU, who are coming off a loss at home to Auburn. If you wanted to see how to blow a game, you witnessed it on Saturday night in Death Valley. But, we will get to that later. Mark Stoops certainly understands how big the LSU game is, especially coming off an emotionally draining win against Florida. But, the positive about this weekend’s game is that it’s another high profile opponent, who will be a big challenge for the Wildcats, according to Stoops.
“We have a big challenge this week. Coach (Ed) Orgeron, LSU Tigers, always a great football team with tons of talent. (They are a) Very, very good football team. They have players at every position. Offensively, they have weapons all over the field. Defensively, they have weapons all over the field. It’s always that way, they have guys at every level that can certainly hurt you.”
The one thing that Kentucky must avoid is the wasted opportunities, which were obvious against the Gators. The Cats were either forced to punt or turned it over on eight different possessions on Saturday night, so if they are going to beat LSU, this team must take advantage of certain opportunities. It’s not like this Tigers defense forgot how to play football, but their coach did them no favors against Auburn, especially not running the football in the fourth quarter. So, when asked about what stood out in regard to the LSU defense, Mark Stoops knows they are an aggressive bunch.
“You just see them, again, very aggressive, very impactful players; guys that can hurt you on defense at each level. You see them up front, you see the linebacker, you see the secondary guys that are NFL players, like top picks, guys that can hurt you. So, I’m still (seeing) very much one of those defenses that are in your grill, one of those defenses that are in your face. Like making you beat them, a lot of press (coverage), a lot of man-free, mix in some zone. You have to beat them. They’re going to make you earn your yards, and so, very good team.”
Containing the LSU passing game will be a key component to the defensive game plan from Kentucky, but don’t let the rushing numbers from last week fool you. Yes, LSU only rushed for 11 yards against Auburn, but I’d put a lot of that on Ed Orgeron, who decided to steer away from running the ball in the fourth quarter, for some awkward reason. It’s not like Corey Kiner or Tyrion Davis-Price forgot how to hit the hole, they just weren’t given the ball enough, which is why Kentucky can’t overlook this offensive aspect, according to Stoops, when asked if he expects LSU to emphasize the run game.
“I do, because they will, and they’re well coached. It’s just like us—areas where we’re falling short, we’re going to work on. We’re going to emphasize that and we’re going to get better at it, they will as well.”
Two things must happen for Kentucky to beat LSU. One, Will Levis must control the offense and pickup a few first downs with his legs, but he also must test LSU deep, take the chances. Two, Chris Rodriguez must continue to draw in the defense, setting up the passing game, but also punching the Tigers in the mouth. I fully expect LSU to have Max Johnson test the Wildcats secondary and will probaly have some success, but he can’t do it alone.
This game sits between a showdown in Athens, that could, crazy as it sounds, decide the SEC East. But first, Kentucky must take care of the wounded Tigers, who have beaten them by a combined score of 76-10 over the last two meetings.
As if Kentucky needed any more motivation for a Saturday night showdown with LSU. Bring on the SEC East chaos, because we’re due for a little fun.