Under the direction of first-year coach Joker Phillips the Wildcats are on the march once again towards the postseason despite losses in the last two games at Florida (48-14) and at Ole Miss (42-35). Mistakes in all areas have haunted the Wildcats but there is little question Auburn will face a very dangerous team Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium and it all starts on offense with three of the best players in the SEC.
Through five games Kentucky has one of the best offensive attacks in the conference in 2010, averaging 36.4 points per game and 453.60 yards. While running back Derrick Locke and wide receiver/athlete Randall Cobb might get all the attention, the difference for the Wildcats comes with quarterback Mike Hartline in the game.
With the big quarterback injured last season Cobb was forced to play the position at times and it put an extra burden on the already versatile player. With everyone in place this season the Wildcats have put it all together. Completing 102-160 passes for 1,222 yards and eight touchdowns with just three interceptions, Hartline (6-6, 210, Sr.) has been solid for the Wildcats and has allowed his two playmakers to do what they do best.
They have delivered with huge starts to the 2010 season, particularly Locke (5-9, 190, Sr.). Averaging 20 attempts per game, Locke has 543 yards and seven touchdowns for the Wildcats and is virtually the only ball carrier for UK this season. Cobb is second on the team in rushing with 121 yards and a score on 13 carries while the rest of the team has carried the ball a total of just 61 times.
Back in his normal wide receiver role Cobb (5-11, 186, Jr.) has been dynamic with 25 receptions for 335 yards and three touchdowns. He has also returned 14 punts for 171 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown, and eight kickoffs for 167 yards. He's not the only weapon on the outside for the Wildcats though.
A massive target, 6-5, 219 senior Chris Matthew has stepped up his game this season and become a major player for Kentucky. Of his 19 receptions this season going for 287 yards, five have gone for touchdowns. On the other side 6-4, 204 La'Rod King has added 15 grabs for 162 yards and a score.
Up front the Wildcats are led by a massive right side of the line with 6-4, 321 senior right tackle Brad Durham and 6-3, 329 junior right guard Larry Warford powering the attack. In the middle is center Matt Smith (6-4, 288, So.) while left tackle Chandler Burden (6-4, 291, Jr.) and guard Stuart Hines (6-4, 291, Jr.) round out the starting five.
Defensively the Wildcats have solid numbers, allowing just 308 yards of total offense per game, but it hasn't translated into keeping opponents off the scoreboard this season. Holding Louisville to just 16 points in the opener, the Wildcats gave up 28 to Western Kentucky before shutting down Akron with 10 points and only 172 yards of total offense. That one game has made UK's stats much better overall than they are at second glance. In the last two weeks Kentucky has given up 90 points and 767 yards of total offense in its two losses.
For the Wildcats the strength of the defense is at the linebacker position. Despite losing two quality players off last year's team Kentucky is still strong at the position led by junior weak side backer Danny Trevathan. The 6-1, 223-pounder leads UK with 42 tackles this season and has a team-high eight tackles for a loss. On the strong side senior Jacob Dufrene (6-1, 211) has just seven tackles in five games while in the middle Ronnie Sneed (6-2, 231, Jr.) has 22 stops for the Wildcats.
Up front Kentucky is an active group but lacks the size of some of the other teams in the SEC. Senior Ricky Lumpkin doesn't lack in that department though at 6-4, 306. He has eight tackles, one sack and three and a half tackles for a loss this season. Beside him is undersized but quick Luke McDermott. The 6-1, 265 junior has 11 tackles but three sacks and four tackles for a loss.
Kentucky has decided to make a change this week though as McDermott won't start and instead 6-1, 293 Mark Crawford will get the nod. With more size he could help the Wildcats in the middle as they try to slow down the Tigers. On the outside ends Collins Ukwu (6-5, 249, So.) and DeQuin Evans (6-3, 256, Sr.) have combined for 15 tackles and a pair of sacks in 2010.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats two of the top three tackles on the team so far this season man the safety positions in juniors Winston Guy (6-1, 215) and Mychal Bailey (6-0, 185). They have combined for 56 tackles in five games, 20 more than the starting defensive line has in that same stretch. On the outside cornerbacks Randall Burden (6-0, 175, Jr.) and sophomore Martavius Neloms (6-1, 184) have 27 combined tackles and just one pass break up. Of Kentucky's three interceptions this season only one (Bailey) has come from a secondary player.
In the special teams department Kentucky has one of the nation's best punters in junior Ryan Tydlacka (6-1, 201). He is averaging 46.4 yards on 17 kicks this season and has put five inside the 20-yard line. He is also 1-3 on field goals while sophomore Craig McIntosh (6-0, 199) is 4-6 with a long of 50 yards.
This contest could come down to the running game once again as the Tigers enter with the league's best rushing attack while Kentucky is 11th in the SEC against the run, allowing 166.2 yards and a league-high 11 touchdowns on the ground. Conversely Auburn is second in rushing defense, allowing just 92.8 yards per game. If the Tigers can continue that trend and force the Wildcats to be one-dimensional it would go a long way towards getting another huge road win in the Southeastern Conference. However if Locke and company have early success running the ball it could set up a shootout on the bluegrass Saturday night.