Know Your Enemy is a weekly Ohio football segment that is presented in a podcast and question-and-answer format. For every Ohio Bobcats football game Speakeasy Sports will be going into the den of the opponent by speaking with an opponent’s beat writer and players to receive some intel and first-hand analysis. By reaching out to a certain team’s beat reporter and players Speakeasy provides a unique look-in at how the ‘Cats will match up against their adversaries.
This week, Speakeasy talked to Kentucky sports columnist at the Lexington Herald-Leader John Clay. You can follow Clay on Twitter at @johnclayiv. The Bobcats will be traveling to Kentucky on Saturday to face the Wildcats at 3:30 p.m. You can listen to the conversation in podcast form after the interview.
Speakeasy Sports: Something you have to be pretty content with is the play at quarterback for Kentucky. The Air Raid system really looked good last Saturday, but the Wildcats looked to run the ball a little bit more. But for those out there who don’t know what the Air Raid system is, do you mind telling us a bit?
John Clay: Patrick Towles is the quarterback; he’s a redshirt sophomore. He played a little bit as a true freshman two years ago under the former coach. When Mark Stoops came in with Neal Brown as the offensive coordinator, they redshirted Towles. But he won the job; he played pretty well in the spring. He played well in the first game. The Air Raid offense was brought to Kentucky back in 1997. But they do want to run the ball a little more than other teams had. They want to be more balanced because they feel like they have good running backs in Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton, guys like that. Although Heard hurt his ankle in the game against Tennessee-Martin last week and he’s questionable or doubtful, Mark Stoops said (Wednesday) that he may not play Saturday. They’re probably going to throw the ball a little more than they run it, but they want to be more balanced in this offense. They’ve got more playmakers than they had last year, and they got off to a good start against Tennessee-Martin last week.
SS: And Heard really provided a spark for the Kentucky offense. But in your opinion how do you think carries will be split against the Bobcats?
JC: I think they’d like to do it the way they did it against Tennessee-Martin. I don’t think they feel like they’re going to have one guy who’s going to be a workhorse or a battering ram for them. They’re going to spread them around. I think you see a few more carries for Jojo Kemp, who’s a sophomore who led them last year in rushing last year. Mikel Horton, a true freshman, and Stanley Williams, a true freshman; Williams only got a couple of carries. I think they want to get him more involved this week. Josh Clemons, who’s a guy who’s coming off knee surgery, he missed pretty much all of the last two years after re-injuring his knee. He got a couple of carries Saturday; I think they want to work him in more. But I think it’s going to be a running back by committee rather than just giving the majority of carries to one guy.
SS: It didn’t look like the offense had any problems this past Saturday, but what were some of the bigger concerns going into the season opener with Kentucky sporting some young guys on its roster?
JC: That was the big concern: They’re relying on a lot of young players. A lot of true freshmen, a lot redshirt freshmen, especially at receiver. They’re going to end up playing probably six true freshmen at receiver on the season. Blake Bone made a couple of nice catches. Dorian Baker, who is from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, they’ve been real high on him; he had a real good camp. Ryan Timmons is a sophomore who played quite a bit last year and had a big catch and run (on Saturday). That was their big question coming into the first game, and all of those guys played pretty well in the first game, so that was encouraging. The other thing in the first game was Darrian Miller, an offensive tackle who is the most experienced offensive linemen, he was suspended, so they started a redshirt freshman in his place. But they get Miller back this week for the Ohio game, but they felt like that their offensive line did play well against Tennessee-Martin, but they felt like that they’re getting a step up in competition in playing Ohio, who they have a lot of respect for. Especially Mark Stoops has a lot of respect for Frank Solich. For a young offense, it’s going to be a big test for Kentucky.
SS: It seems as though Kentucky has a lot of playmakers on this team. It seems like some are emerging on offense, but on the defense especially. Would you say A.J. Stamps is leading that group?
JC: Oh yeah, absolutely. He’s a junior college kid that they brought in; he’s made a big difference in the secondary. Their secondary was pretty bad last year, which really had to irk Mark Stoops because Stoops is an old secondary coach before he became a defensive coordinator. That’s been his focus is the secondary and getting Stamps helps. He made an interception Saturday, also had a couple of nice tackles, one behind the line of scrimmage. He’s a play-making guy. They brought in Ryan Flannigan who’s a junior college linebacker that they feel like can help him make plays. The strength of the defense, probably the strength of their team, are the defensive ends: Alvin Dupree and Za’Darius Smith. Those guys they feel like are play makers. They didn’t have their best games last Saturday, and I feel like Dupree can make more plays, but bringing in A.J. Stamps really elevated the secondary. Stoops bragged on him quite a bit during the fall and at camp, and he backed up that bragging with the game he played Saturday.
SS: Because it’s early in the season both offenses are going to be a little bit hard to game plan for early on because they’re sporting new quarterbacks and there has been a lot of overhaul on the offensive end. After one drive, just like Kentucky, things starting clicking for the Bobcats’ offense. How does the Kentucky defense prepare for an offense they have seen little of?
JC: That’s definitely a concern. The other concern I think for Kentucky is historically they have not done well against dual-threat quarterbacks. They feel like (Derrius) Vick is an athletic type quarterback that they have to make sure to play good sound fundamental defense, and that’s always a concern when you’ve got a lot of young guys defensively. That is definitely a concern; this is an offense with a new quarterback. They’re not exactly sure what Ohio is going to do; they just have that one game to go off of. I do know the one thing that does concern them, and they want to pay special attention to, is the dual-threat quarterback because that type of quarterback has hurt Kentucky in the past.
SS: And before I let you go John, I want to ask you your prediction on what you think the final score will be for Saturday’s game.
JC: I think Kentucky, because they’re a 10-point favorite, I think they will win; they’re playing at home and I think they have a little more talent. It’s sort of a dangerous game for Kentucky; their spirits are really high after scoring 59 points on Tennessee-Martin. You might catch some people already looking ahead to Florida next week in the SEC opener. Mark Stoops knows, and he said this several times on Monday, he knows that Ohio is going to be a good, sound fundamental team. Solich knows what he’s doing; he’s built a solid program, and if Kentucky doesn’t play well, they can get upset. And I think they feel like even if they played well they’re going to be in for a tough game on Saturday. I think Kentucky will win, but I think it will be a tough game. 27-17, something like that.
You can stream the podcast version of Know Your Enemy by clicking here, where Ohio Bobcats beat writer Zak Kolesar of Speakeasy Sports talks with Kentucky Wildcats sports columnist John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader: