Baton Rouge, LA – The newly anointed top-ranked team in the land, the LSU Tigers, will play host to the Kentucky Wildcats this weekend in an SEC affair.
Nothing seemed to go right for Kentucky in last week's 48-10 beating at the hands of the Florida Gators.
"For five minutes in the game we looked like a pretty good football team, and then the things that we had been doing in the past started showing up, turnovers, giving short fields, three short fields and turnovers," said Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips after the lopsided defeat.
The Wildcats opened the season with back-to-back victories, but they have since lost two in a row and are set to play the second of three straight games against highly-ranked and unbeaten SEC opponents.
As for LSU, it jumped previously top-ranked Oklahoma in the most recent AP poll, as the Tigers earned 42 of 60 first-place votes. The program was last ranked No. 1 in January of 2008 after winning the 2007 BCS National Championship Game against Ohio State. Having already beaten a ranked Oregon team and SEC rival Mississippi State, which was ranked at the time of the game, LSU made another statement last weekend by defeating ranked West Virginia on the road by a 47-21 final.
"We showed up tonight in a very hostile environment, and you have to play," said LSU head coach Les Miles. "West Virginia did a very good job, but our defense showed up to play and we got off to a nice start."
The Tigers own a commanding 38-16-1 series advantage over the Wildcats, and the programs last met in 2007.
Kentucky turned the ball over four times against Florida last week, perhaps the most obvious reason for the wide margin of defeat. Morgan Newton threw a pair of interceptions, opening the door for Maxwell Smith to see some time under center.
Asked if he has a quarterback controversy on his hands, coach Phillips responded quickly.
"No, no. I mean, we don't have a quarterback controversy. Max -- every opportunity we get to get Max in the game, we will, and we had an opportunity tonight. If we're struggling at quarterback, we know that the guy can go in there and handle himself. He did a decent job tonight, so this experience gives us that opportunity."
The fact that Kentucky is averaging only 17.0 ppg and 280.8 total ypg suggests that there is plenty of room for offensive improvement. The ground attack has been rather ineffective, managing just 3.6 yards per carry and three touchdowns in 16 quarters of action. Newton is completing 53.6 percent of his passes for 590 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions, and he has rushed for 100 yards. The best player for the UK offense is clearly La'Rod King, who has caught 19 passes for 276 yards and four scores.
Defensively, Kentucky was no match for Florida last week, as the Gators posted a staggering total of 405 rushing yards on 46 carries. They averaged 8.8 yards per attempt and scored four touchdowns on the ground against the seemingly helpless Wildcats. A total of 520 yards were surrendered, and that type of performance simply isn't good enough.
Opponents are generating 22.0 ppg and 366.0 total ypg against Kentucky, which was far better through the first three weeks than it was against Florida. The Wildcats are giving up 203.8 rushing ypg at a clip of 5.1 ypc, so there is definitely room for improvement there. On a positive note, the 'Cats have intercepted seven passes and held opposing quarterbacks under 50 percent completions.
That Kentucky defense will certainly be under fire again this weekend, as LSU is generating 38.8 ppg and 350.0 total ypg. The Tigers have scored 18 offensive touchdowns, 11 of which have come on the ground, and quarterback Jarrett Lee has connected on 64.4 percent of his passes for 624 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception. Rueben Randle leads a talented group of receivers with 18 catches for 282 yards and three touchdowns. As for the ground attack, Spencer Ware is tops with 318 yards, while Michael Ford has gained 300 yards and six touchdowns.
As expected, LSU has been tremendous defensively, holding opponents to 14.2 ppg and 289.0 total ypg. The Tigers are yielding just 53.2 rushing ypg at a clip of 1.9 ypc. As for the pass defense, just 9.3 yards per completion are being permitted. A high total of 11 takeaways have been notched, and seven sacks have been posted.
Against West Virginia, LSU was outgained 533-366 in total yardage, surprising considering the wide margin of victory. But while the Tigers struggled to execute the offense and make stops at times, they didn't commit a single turnover and forced four WVU giveaways.
"We made some mistakes, but we overcame that adversity," said Miles. "We have a real strong road personality, but no matter the environment we are capable of playing."