Four Downs: Breaking down keys to victory for Kentucky Wildcats in season opener

In this edition of All Wildcats' "Four Downs," we examine the keys to Kentucky earning a win over Southern Miss in the season opener on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

1. Control The Football

The best way to slow down a high-powered offense like the one Southern Miss will bring to town? Play keep-away and make Golden Eagles quarterback Nick Mullens watch most of the game from the sideline. Some fans may not mind seeing a track meet on Saturday, but that's a dangerous game to play with USM, who averaged 39.9 points per game and scored more than 50 points five times last season. Look for Kentucky to lean on its experienced offensive line and deep stable of running backs throughout this game, limiting the pressure on sophomore quarterback Drew Barker. That's not to suggest this should be "three yards and a cloud of dust" all night from the Cats, but establishing the run early and keeping the chains moving should allow new UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran to pick his spots when to hit USM with the passing attack. Above all, the Cats need a W in this one. Style points won't matter. 

2. Get Pressure on The QB

Kentucky comes into this season with perhaps the most talented (and hyped) secondary in program history. Chris Westry & Co. are licking their chops to test their mettle against a quarterback like Mullens, but it won't be a fair fight if the Cats can't generate pressure. Every coach will tell you the best defensive backs to ever play the game are going to give up plays without help from their pass-rushing teammates. UK's failure to pressure the quarterback last season has been well-documented. The Cats finished with only 17 sacks a year ago. They need three or four in this game, minimum. Where they will come from remains anyone's guess. Candidates include linebackers Joshua Allen, Kobie Walker, hybrid end/backer Denzil Ware and defensive end Courtney Miggins. 

3. Start Fast

The Cats should have a large, enthusiastic crowd for the opener at CWS. A quick start out of the gates and a nice lead prior to halftime would do wonders toward keeping the energy level high in the stands. Big Blue Nation has been in "prove it to me" mode during the off-season coming off back to back disappointing 5-7 campaigns, and this is a crucial game for UK head coach Mark Stoops. A slow start could have many fans grumbling and negate a much-needed home-field advantage, not to mention emboldening a Southern Miss squad already looking to make its mark with a win against an SEC opponent. Kentucky was a decent first-quarter squad last season, outscoring opponents 96-73 in the opening stanza. 

4. Play 'Clean'

The line for this game has been hovering around 6.5 points all summer, which means the experts out in Vegas fully expect a competitive game. As with most closely-contested games, turnovers and penalties -- or lack thereof -- will loom large. The UK staff has praised the offense for taking care of the ball throughout camp and game week. We think the Cats will be solid in that regard. The weather is expected to be beautiful, so that won't likely be an X-factor. It's tougher to gauge how a team will fare with penalties until they're out there under the lights for the first time, but an experienced O-Line anchored by All-SEC center candidate Jon Toth should help. Keep a close eye on special teams, which are often a bigger question mark early in the season than at any other point. 

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