Kentucky's first game under Rick Minter's defensive tutelage very went extremely well. The new co-defensive coordinator made some alignment changes to the Wildcats' defensive packages, and his move of safety Winston Guy to a hybrid safety/linebacker role paid immediate dividends in a season-opening 14-3 victory over Western Kentucky.
The Wildcats get another chance to get comfortable in Minter's system this Saturday against Central Michigan, but it may be hard to top an outing in which the defense allowed just 234 yards and had four interceptions.
Guy and All-SEC linebacker Danny Trevathan are the key veteran cogs that fuel the defense.
"Exactly how I envisioned our whole defense," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "I thought our whole defense played well. I think you're seeing more guys play like Winston Guy and Danny. Our guys played with great effort. It's infectious."
Guy, a senior, had two of Kentucky's four interceptions and also posted 10 tackles in one of his top collegiate games. Trevathan had 13 tackles -- a normal output for a player who led the SEC in tackles last season.
The defense carried the Wildcats in the opener while the offense struggled mightily. Quarterback Morgan Newton struggled and wasn't helped by sloppy play from his receivers. Kentucky also struggled to run the ball.
The Wildcats led by just four points in the fourth quarter before finding some breathing room with their second and final touchdown in their first contest without school icons Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke.
"Just give us time," Phillips said. "We've got some unknowns (on offense). We've seen some things in practice that got us excited.
"We didn't see anything in this game that got us excited. But there's nothing wrong with winning with defense and special teams."
--Senior DT Luke McDermott was named Co-SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his showing against Western Kentucky. McDermott matched his career-high with four tackles and had a sack.
SERIES HISTORY: Kentucky leads 5-0 (last meeting, 2006, 45-36).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Junior QB Morgan Newton completed just 7-of-18 passes for 97 yards in the opener. Worse were the three interceptions he tossed. The receivers were unproductive and dropped too many passes, which prompted coach Joker Phillips to insist changes will be made. La'Rod King's 31-yard touchdown reception was one of the few highlights from the passing game. Freshman Josh Clemons had a team-best 39 yards and scored on a 14-yard run. The veteran offensive line struggled without injured C Matt Smith, G Stuart Hines playing at less than full strength due to a knee injury and T Billy Joe Murphy getting injured during the contest.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Kentucky's four-interception game was its first since accumulating four against Idaho State in 2005. LB Ronnie Sneed and S Martavius Neloms joined Guy (two picks) in making interceptions. Trevathan had a team-best 13 tackles while Guy and Sneed had 10 apiece. Neloms had five tackles in his first game as a safety after being switched from cornerback. DT Luke McDermott was strong in the trenches. DE Collins Ukwu is ailing and will be at less than full strength against Central Michigan, so the squad's depth will be tested.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody knows what kind of wide receivers I like. I like guys that are going to be tough, physical, and will put their nose on people, and we didn't see that last week. There will be some changes at the wide receiver position, and rightfully so." -- Kentucky coach Joker Phillips on his disappointment over the performances of the receivers in the season-opening game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Kentucky vs. Central Michigan, Sept. 10 -- The Wildcats have a lot to prove after struggling against Western Kentucky in their opener, while Central Michigan opened with a 21-6 victory over South Carolina State. The Chippewas will see Kentucky as an opportunity to beat a BCS program.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Kentucky should be able to control the game based on sheer edge in athletic ability, but the Wildcats also need improved play from their offensive line to control the trenches. Central Michigan is a young squad, so early-game jitters in an SEC stadium are possible, meaning the first quarter could be pivotal. Kentucky's defense has been soft against run in recent seasons, so holding Chippewas RB Zurlon Tipton in check is important.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Morgan Newton -- Throwing three interceptions gets glossed over in a victory, but Kentucky can't afford miscues like that from Newton. He threw two picks in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats were up 7-3. He banged up the thumb on his non-throwing hand, an ailment that might bother him when it comes to handling the center snap exchange.
WR Demarco Robinson -- Look for the true freshman to receive ample playing time. Kentucky needs to get him involved prior to the start of SEC play to see if he can play a role, particularly with how poorly the receivers played in the opener. Robinson caught 27 touchdown passes last season as a high school senior.
S/LB Winston Guy -- He had 2.5 tackles for loss among his 10 stops in the opener to go with two interceptions. Hard to top that type of performance, but the new defensive scheme puts Guy in position to make more plays.
--C Matt Smith (ankle) is doubtful for Central Michigan. He didn't play in the opener against Western Kentucky.
--T Billy Joe Murphy (knee) has a chance at playing against Central Michigan after leaving the opener.
--DE Collins Ukwu (chest) should play against Central Michigan despite missing the second half of the Western Kentucky game.
--WR Brian Adams (ankle) is questionable for the Central Michigan contest.