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Keith Taylor: Wildcats have short time to prepare for rare Thursday night encounter


 Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and the Wildcats will take on Auburn in a rare Thursday night game this week. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN (UK Athletics Photo)

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and the Wildcats will take on Auburn in a rare Thursday night game this week. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN (UK Athletics Photo)

 
Kentucky has had plenty of time to get over a close call against neighboring Eastern Kentucky. They have little time to prepare for Auburn.
 
The Wildcats (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) and Tigers (3-2, 0-2) will meet in a rare Thursday night showdown this week at Commonwealth Stadium, marking the first non-Saturday contest in Lexington since 1939.
 

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“It’s going to come very quickly this week,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday. “It’s different because you don’t have quite as much time (to prepare).”
 
Kentucky hasn’t played since a 34-27 overtime triumph over Eastern Kentucky, giving the Wildcats “some extra time” to prepare for the Tigers and heal up “for the most part.”
 
“We’re at mid-season and we’re banged up a little bit,” Stoops said. “We’re going to have to deal with that.”
 
A big question mark for Kentucky will be C.J. Johnson, who “got rolled up a little bit in practice.” Although Johnson is a question mark, Regie Meant, who missed the Eastern contest is expected to return to the lineup at one of the defensive end slots. Stoops said Meant is better suited to defend Auburn’s scheme.
 
“We will be in better shape because Regie (Meant) will be back full speed,” Stoops said. “They both have some strengths and they are different type players. Regie gives us a little bit more stout inside and Cory is more active against spread teams. Having Regie back will help if Cory is out.”

imgres
Auburn at Kentucky
When: Thursday
7 p.m.
Records: Kentucky 4-1, Auburn 3-2
TV/Radio: SEC Network; 98.1 WBUL

 
The return of Stanley “Boom” Williams at running back also gives the Cats a boost in the backfield. Williams sat out the narrow win over the Colonels while dealing with undisclosed “personal issues.”
 
“He’s back in good standing,” Stoops said. “He’s good to go.”
 
Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson added the return to Williams is a boost for the backfield, which gained just 55 yards in the seven-point win over Eastern Kentucky.
 
“Obviously we are a better team with him on the field,” Dawson said. “He understands that and we understand that. We want him to be on the field as much as possible. We are a lot better with him out there.”
 
Along with Williams, Jordan Swindle also is expected to be back in the lineup, another boost for the offensive line, which has given up 16 sacks this season. Dawson said the return of Swindle will help provide better pass protection for quarterback Patrick Towles.
 
“Jordan has been proven to be the best one at that edge,” Dawson said. “Pass protection is something that we have stressed. Every week, we are going to work on pass protection because typically we are always going to have to face someone that is disruptive. Especially in this league. It is not different Thursday, it is going to be the same.”
 
Auburn, which played in the national championship game just two years ago, has struggled this year and has lost its first two conference games. The struggles were magnified with the loss of receiver Duke Williams, who was dismissed last week.
 
Five games into the season, the Tigers have yet to settle on a quarterback, splitting between Jeremy Johnson and Sean White but are more stable in the backfield with Peyton Barber, who ranks fourth in the league in rushing with 111.6 points per game. Auburn’s offense is more geared toward the run this season, but Stoops also wants to keep an eye on the sky, considering Gus Malzahn’s reputation for throwing the football.
 
“Their offense is very hard to defend,” Stoops said. “They put a lot of stress on you. Anybody that uses the quarterback in the run game puts stress on you.”
 
Stoops hopes his team can put stress on the Tigers with a consistent performance. Stoops saw signs of improvement during the bye week.
 
“You can’t be up one day and down another and good in one session of practice and down in another,” he said. “I have seen the focus, what I am talking about there is not just physical but the mental focus that goes into it. You have to be sharp. I think we are much better in that area. No coach is going to be completely content with where you are at in that area or any area, but we are getting better. I really liked it over the last week and a half.”
 


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