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LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky Wildcats have a healthy respect for Ohio.
The Bobcats won the last meeting 28-16 here in 2004 and aim for another Saturday that would even the series 3-3. Ohio (1-0) has also gone to five straight bowl games, consistency that second-year Kentucky coach Mark Stoops desires for his program.
The Youngstown, Ohio, native doesn't believe beating a team from his home state adds incentive and says, "you know how desperately we need wins. ... They're all important, I don't really look at it that way."
Ohio edged Kent State 17-14 in its Mid-American Conference opener on Josiah Yazdani's 44-yard field goal as time expired. Kentucky's priority is building off last week's 59-14 drubbing of Tennessee-Martin, a game in which the Wildcats outgained the Skyhawks 656-398.
For a program looking to develop a winning mindset, the Wildcats' dominant victory was a positive first step. Their goal is keeping things in context as they face an Ohio team seeking a winning streak against them despite matchups being few and far in a series that goes back to 1910.
In fact, 2003-04 marks the only period close to being considered regular meetings. That doesn't mean the schools aren't familiar with each other.
Stoops said this week that he's well aware of Ohio coach Frank Solich's impact on the program since arriving in 2005. After guiding Nebraska to a 58-19 mark from 1998-2003, Solich is 67-50 with the Bobcats.
Ohio gained 437 yards against Kent State, with quarterback Derrius Vick passing for 262 passing yards and two touchdowns. The Bobcats' defense allowed just 31 rushing yards on 22 carries.
"They're not going to give you things easy," Stoops said of Ohio. "You have to go earn them."
Solich feels the same about Kentucky, which boasts 21 players from the Buckeye State. Stoops has lured most of them and Solich sees their immediate involvement having long-term benefits for the Wildcats.
Ohio's challenge is preventing Kentucky from having short-term success on Saturday.
"They're really an athletic group and I think it's a matter of time there," he said. "They're gaining experience day by day and obviously got off to a great start (against UT Martin). They appear to be a team now that's building depth."
Some things to watch as Kentucky hosts Ohio:
TIGHTER DEFENSE: Kentucky recorded five turnovers, including an 89-yard fumble return for a touchdown, and three sacks. But the Wildcats also allowed UT-Martin 398 yards with 183 coming on the ground. More concerning was that they allowed a handful of gains for 15 yards or more, which can't happen against Ohio's quick, athletic skill players.
WILDCATS BACKFIELD: Junior Braylon Heard is doubtful with a sprained ankle after running for touchdowns of 73 and 43 yards last week. The workload could go to sophomore Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton, who combined for 76 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries.
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE: Despite four Ohio backs fumbling last week, Solich isn't concerned about a pattern developing — yet. "We're not going to overact because of what transpired in that first game," the coach said, "because of the personality of those backs and a couple (of them) showing no history of that in their background."
SPREAD IT AROUND: Ten Wildcats caught passes last week, an encouraging effort from a position sporting a lot of youth. Every reception went for at least 12 yards, another promising indicator for an Air Raid offense dependent on those short routes.
STAYING UPRIGHT: Little pressure from UT Martin allowed Kentucky sophomore QB Patrick Towles to throw for 377 yards and a TD in his first start. He might not have the same luxury against an Ohio defense that recorded two sacks and eight tackles for loss totaling 30 yards.