The Wildcats enter the third game of the season with an opportunity to move to 3-0 and look to clean up some of their problem areas (run defense, special teams, placekicking). They are also looking to pick up their 18th strait regular season non-conference win.
Their opponent will be the Akron Zips and it marks the first time that these two schools have ever squarred off in football. The Zips enter the game against Kentucky with an 0-2 record, losing 29-3 vs. Syracuse and 38-37 in overtime to Gardner-Webb.
The Zips have not had a winning season since 2005, when they finished 7-6, and they are just 17-31 in their last four seasons. In most publications they were picked to finish last in the MAC East and many predicted them to win just one game. That one game was Garnder-Webb, which didn’t happen.
Prior to the season they welcomed in Rob Ianello as their head coach. Ianello replaced J.D. Brookhart, who went 3-9 in his final season at Akron. This is Ianello’s first full-time head coaching gig. After spending time at Washington as the tight ends coach, he joined Charlie Weiss’ staff at Notre Dame as their receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. When FrontButt was let go at Notre Dame, he was named interim head coach in South Bend, but was eventually replaced by Brian Kelly and headed to Akron.
This Akron team is very similar to Kentucky’s last opponent, Western Kentucky. They struggle on defense, but they have a few weapons on offense, especially in the running game.
Last year they allowed 172 rushing yards per game, which ranked 91st amongst FCS schools. Through the first two games of the 2010 season their hasn’t been much improvement. Against the ‘Cuse they allowed 229 yards through the air and 202 yards on the ground. The Orange carried the ball 45 times against the Zips in an attempt to wear down their defense.
Gardner-Webb had the majority of their success in the air, as their two quarterbacks combined to complete 25-of-43 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
Their linebacking core is the strength of their defense and they are led by sophomore Brian Wagner. Wagner (6-2, 220) is a strongside linebacker and last year as a freshman he led the team in tackles with 132, which was 50 more than anyone else on the team. This year he already has 20 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
The Cats have had success moving the football against Louisville and WKU. Expect that trend to continue on Saturday versus the Zips as long as they continue to protect the football. Through two games Kentucky is one of only six teams in the country that have yet to turn the ball over. Those six teams are a combined 9-1.
Akron has to cause turnovers to stay in the game, because if they don’t the Wildcats will more than likely put points on the board.
On the other side of the football, the Zips have two competent running backs in seniors Nate Burney and Alex Allen. Burney (5-6, 170) has 157 yards on the season and is averaging 5.4 per pop, while Allen (6-0, 210) has 131 yards, 4.9 per, and three touchdowns. Both backs had 100+ yards in their opener against Syracuse.
Sophomore Patrick Nicely (6-4, 215) starts at quarterback for Akron after winning the competition in training camp. His numbers through two games are not that impressive and he was downright awful against the ‘Cuse. Against Syracuse he completed just 12-of-35 passes for 111 yards, good for just 3.17 yards-per-attempt.
Nicely’s lone legit target is senior wideout Jeremy LaFrance (6-1, 195). Amazingly, LaFrance caught seven of Nicely’s 12 completions in the Syracuse game and his line looked halfway decent, finishing with seven catches for 75 yards. He is also a solid kick returner, averaging over 20 yards per pop on the season. He will challenge UK in the return game.
Their offense is not anything to really fear. They scored just three points on Syracuse and they are coming off of a season where their offense wasn’t very productive at all.
This Akron team is not very good and with last week’s loss to Gardner-Webb, they now could potentially finish the 2010 season winless. Ianello comes to Akron considered an offensive guru, but it is going to take him some time to get the weapons necessary to start moving the football.
Needless to say, when the Zips enter “The Wealth” they will be considered heavy underdogs and it will take a plethora of mistakes for them to walk out of their with a win.
Still, Kentucky has to focus and clean up some things prior to entering SEC play next week in Gainesville.
Through two games they are allowing just over 300 yards of total offense and 188 yards on the ground. Burney and Allen aren’t as talented of running backs as WKU’s Bobby Rainey or Louisville’s Victor Anderson or Bilal Powell, but they had success against a Big East opponent in Syracuse.
A lot of the yards that the Wildcats have given up have been courtesy of the big play and that is why the UK coaching staff has focused so much on tackling. A lot of the blame has been placed on the defensive line, and more specifically DeQuin Evans, but the linebackers and secondary have to start wrapping people up when they get into the second and third lines. Too many times this season they have whiffed on tackles, opening up big play opportunities.
They also need to contain LaFrance in the return game. After two games Kentucky ranks 115th in the country in kickoff coverage, allowing over 30 yards-per-return. The Wildcats should get ample opportunity to improve and test their return defense against Akron, because they should have no problem scoring points.
In regards to the struggles in the kicking game, it looks like sophomore Craig McIntosh will get an opportunity to kick against Akron. Ryan Tydlacka entered the season as the starting kicker and punter, but after missing two field goals and an extra point through the first two games, McIntosh gets the nod. It is still believed that freshman Joe Monsour is their most talented kicker with the biggest leg, but it looks like his opportunities are still down the road. I say he gets the nod before the season’s over.
Kentucky rolls on Saturday and moves to 3-0, but will they clean up their problem areas enough to give UK fans confidence of an upset in Gainesville?
Kentucky 49, Akron 10