Vaught's Views: Ten factors to watch in tonight's game

August 31, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Since it is only a few hours before Kentucky and Louisville open the season in the Bluegrass Bowl at Commonwealth Stadium, time is running out to determine who will win the game.

Fans normally pick a winner based more on emotion than logic. However, if you are trying to take an objective look at tonight's game, here are 10 factors that could determine the game's outcome.

* Coaching adjustments.

Since both teams have new coaching staffs, neither side knows exactly what to expect in tonight's season opener. Both teams likely will have alignments to surprise the other side.

The key will be which side makes the best adjustments in the shortest amount of time. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks' staff has far more overall coaching experience, but much has been at the NFL level. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and his staff are college guys and are used to making game adjustments with college-age players.


* Weather.

If the game is played in the rain or on a muddy field, it should favor Louisville. The Cardinals are far better at tight end than UK and likely would be able to play a power game dictated by poor weather conditions better than the Wildcats. Kentucky's 3-4 defense will depend on speed and that could be negated by sloppy conditions as could UK's perceived edge in the passing game.

* Louisville quarterback Stefan LeFors.

This is a difficult game not only to make a first start, but to get significant playing time for the first time. Many assumed highly-touted freshman Michael Bush would be Louisville's starter. Instead, LeFors patiently did his job well and earned the starting job.

He knows a little about overcoming adversity, too. He grew up as the only hearing member of a deaf family in Louisiana. His only scholarship offer was to Louisville.

* Kick returners Derek Abney and Broderick Clark.

While Abney gets most of the attention because of his record-breaking season in 2002 when he returned six kicks for touchdowns, don't forget about Louisville's Clark. He was Conference USA's special teams player of the year in 2002 when he had a 100-yard kickoff return against UK and ranked second nationally in kickoff returns.

They are two of the nation's best and the one that has the better game could well give his team the edge it needs to win.

* Running backs.

Many give Louisville the edge here with the return of T.J. Patterson and Lionel Gates to go with Florida State transfer, and Lexington native, Eric Shelton. However, junior college transfer Draak Davis has made a big impression on the UK coaching staff. Davis is no Artose Pinner, but he could be better than many perceive.

* UK defensive line vs. Louisville offensive line.

The Cats dominated this battle last year and the Louisville linemen have not forgotten that game. If UK turns this into a mismatch and Jeremy Caudill, Vincent Burns and others are able to pressure LeFors on every play it will be a huge advantage for the Cats.

* Linebackers.

The heart of any defense is at this position. The Cards have three vastly underrated players in Rod Day, Robert McCune and Brandon Johnson. Kentucky does not have a single proven player and will likely start two former walk-ons - Justin Haydock and Deion Holts - in Mike Archer's 3-4 scheme. If Kentucky's linebackers are not making plays early, the Louisville offense could keep the ball a lot.

* Kicking.

Again, Louisville has the edge with experience in punter Wade Tydlacka and kicker Nate Smith. Brooks has worried from day one about his team's punting and goes into the game hoping that Sevin Sucorovic can at least be adequate. Taylor Begley made several big field goals last year, including two against Louisville, but an injury could give the starting job to Clint Ruth, who is untested under pressure.

* Shane Boyd.

How will Brooks use him? How often will he use him? He's lined up at backup quarterback, tailback and receiver since Brooks arrived and the UK coaches want to take advantage of his athleticism. But will it work?

* Turnovers.

Kentucky was great at taking care of the ball last season and Louisville wasn't. But the Cards were better at forcing turnovers than UK was. The team that can force turnovers, or maintain its poise and not give the ball way, will have a huge edge.

As even as this game appears, a key interception or fumble could be enough to decide the outcome.

Central Kentucky News Articles