Staff Predictions: UK-Toledo
Before every game Cats Illustrated writers Jeff Drummond, Travis Graf and Justin Rowland will make their predictions in familiar roundtable style.
What are the main reasons Kentucky fans should be optimistic about the game against Toledo on Saturday?
Jeff Drummond: Kentucky fans should be optimistic due to the vibes that Mark Stoops & Co. have given off during camp and leading up to the first week of the season. The UK staff, not prone to hyperbole or sugarcoating, feels good about its team going into the season. Having a rock-solid offensive line and defensive line tends to have that effect.
Travis Graf: Kentucky should be able to move the ball pretty easily against the Rockets. The ‘Cats should control the trenches and give the running backs solid running lanes. Terry Wilson should have time to go through his progressions in the pocket. I expect the Kentucky defensive line to cause havoc all day.
Justin Rowland: Toledo doesn't force many turnovers, or they haven't in recent years, and Terry Wilson has protected the ball in camp. One typical ingredient in upsets is the turnover bug for the favored team and that doesn't seem to be a huge issue based on the past performance of these teams. Kentucky's offensive and defensive lines have significant advantages against Toledo's units in the trenches. UK also has better skill talent. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
What are some possible reasons for concern?
Drummond: Toledo is not your typical non-conference pushover that some UK fans may be expecting. This is a program that has been to five consecutive bowl games and consistently puts players in the NFL. The Rockets have the offensive personnel to make this game competitive.
Graf: Toledo’s offensive scheme is Kentucky’s worst nightmare in game one. With a questionable secondary facing an offense that is wired to score points, it’ll be a tough test right off the bat. Also, Toledo named senior dual-threat quarterback Mitch Guadagni as the week one starter. The ‘Cats have historically struggled against dual-threat guys and Guadagni was fifth in the country last year with 357 rushing yards off of scrambles.
Rowland: Kentucky tends to play fairly close games against mid-majors early in the season against Mark Stoops, in part because of the Cats' conservative approach. That leaves you with less of a margin for error which can be a problem if things get a little whacky. With so many new players in the secondary there's the possibility of blown assignments or miscommunication and we don't know how the young players will tackle in space. So until we know the defense can avoid giving up big plays, that will be a concern.
Who will be Kentucky's MVP on Saturday?
Drummond: I've got A.J. Rose as the Cats' MVP in the opener, although I could equally make a case for it being the O-Line as a unit. I think UK dominates the offensive trench on Saturday.
Graf: Terry Wilson. I don’t expect Toledo’s defense to give the ‘Cats much push back and Wilson will have time to make reads and pick apart the defense through the air or with his feet. Wilson accounts for 3 or 4 total touchdowns on the day.
Rowland: Lynn Bowden. He's Kentucky's best skill player and the 'Cats will want to get him involved in the offense early and often. I'll predict a couple of touchdowns for UK's junior slot and return man. Toledo was also poor at punt coverage last season. Watch out for Bowden on special teams.
What's your prediction for the game?
Drummond: Kentucky 36, Toledo 23. This one could be close for more than a half, but I think the Cats keep pounding the Rockets with the run game and eventually pull away to a comfortable victory.
Graf: Kentucky 42, Toledo 27. I’m sticking with my preseason game by game prediction here. Kentucky puts up a lot of points, but struggles against some of the wrinkles in the Rockets’ offense. Every season, week one hasn’t been Kentucky’s best showing under Stoops. I expect Toledo to put up points while the defense works to figure things out. The game is never in serious jeopardy, but shows that the ‘Cats have some work to do.
Rowland: Kentucky 34, Toledo 23. I'd be surprised if the game is a total blowout, but Kentucky should be in control for most of the contest because of superior line play. Toledo gets enough quality quarterback play and moves the chains consistently enough to keep it interesting.