Stephens: Storylines all over the field for Cats-Tops

Brad Stephens

This should be a fun one.

I’m honestly looking forward to Saturday’s WKU-Kentucky game in Lexington more than any game I’ve ever covered.

In a lot of ways, it might be one of the most important WKU athletic events that I can remember.

On one side is the “big brother” Wildcats, and they’ve fallen on hard times.

Their coach, Joker Phillips, is fighting for his coaching life. He’s also trying to win back a fan base grown so apathetic that some of its members have not-so-jokingly called for the embattled Bobby Petrino to come save the day.

A loss to directional school WKU would practically doom Phillips, and everyone in Commonwealth Stadium knows it.

On the other side are the “little brother” Toppers, an upstart bunch who’ve gone from punching bag to punchers.

Coach Willie Taggart’s “Who’s got it better than us?” swagger has caught on with his team and his fans. WKU expects to win.

But WKU has never beat Kentucky, or any other SEC school, for that matter.

If the Toppers win, it’s a program milestone and a statement that the program “belongs.”

Lose, and they’ve blown one of the best chances they’ll ever have to beat an SEC team.

For a matchup of two unranked teams played in front of a sure-to-be partially empty stadium, this game has all the drama a college football fan could want.

With that, here are some observations going into Saturday:

— Don’t expect a Morgan Newton-like performance from UK quarterback Maxwell Smith on Saturday.

As you’ll recall, in last year’s 14-3 Cat win, Newton was busy almost singlehandedly undoing his school’s solid quarterback reputation.

Tim Couch, Andre Woodson and the ghost of George Blanda were surely wincing as Lance Guidry’s WKU defense forced Newton into a 7-of-18, 97-yard, three-interception eyesore of a stat line.

But UK seems to have achieved the right offensive combination of quarterback and system with Smith and the no-huddle spread.

Mix that with an improved receiving corps, and the Topper secondary could have its hands full come Saturday.

— Don’t expect any Topper running backs to be fumbling on Saturday.

Taggart wasn’t kidding when he compared turnovers to cigarettes this week. Three fumbles and a bad interception gutted WKU’s chances last week against No. 1 Alabama.

With UK’s improved offense, WKU can’t afford to waste possessions with turnovers come Saturday.

Surely after a week of classmates trying to rip footballs out of their hands, none of last week’s fumblers will commit the great sin against UK.

— All eyes will be on WKU linebacker Andrew Jackson.

Sure, people down here loved his infamous “they s’posed to be SEC” quote regarding Kentucky during last year’s game.

But you can bet the boys in blue have that quote tacked up all over their football facilities.

Jackson predictably declined talking to the media this week, probably wanting to avoid feeding the Wildcats any more bulletin board material.

The Cats will be doing all they can to make Jackson eat the words he’s already said.