Miami at No. 20 Kentucky: What you need to know about Saturday’s season opener

Who: Miami at No. 20 Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Kroger Field (57,800)

Television: ESPN+, SECN+/1450-AM

Series: Kentucky leads, 8-4-1. Wildcats have won last three meetings, including 41-7 at Kentucky in 2013. Last Miami win was 15-14 at Kentucky in 1979.

Last meeting: Chris Wade scored Miami’s only points with a 6-yard return of a fumble for a touchdown in Mark Stoops’s first career victory as a head coach.

Coaches: Miami’s Chuck Martin is 39-52 in eight seasons at Miami and 113-59 in 14 overall season; Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is 59-53 in 10 seasons at Kentucky.

Local flavor on the Wildcats: Alex Afari Jr., 6-2, 203, Fr., defensive back, Lakota West; JuTahn McLain, 5-9, 201, Jr., running back, Fairfield; Matt Ruffolo, 5-11, 211, Graduate student, kicker, Alter.

Kentucky notes: The Wildcats are coming off their second 10-win season in the last four years, including a 20-17 win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. Quarterback Will Levis threw for 2,827 yards and rushed for 376 yards in 2021 after transferring from Penn State. The youthful Wildcats are expected to see five freshmen start against the RedHawks, including two true freshmen as wide receivers.

Miami notes: The RedHawks lost from the 2021 season a combined 208 tackles and 21-1/2 sacks to the transfer portal, but they’ve added 13 transfers they hope will help plug the gaps. Senior wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer, himself a transfer from Penn State, set career bests last season with 48 catches, 786 yards and five touchdowns. Miami hopes linebacker Ryan McWood can use his experience to help bring along quickly a rebuilding defense that lost five of its top six tacklers from last season. Due to redshirting COVID and a season-ending injury in the first game of last season, McWood enters his seventh year with the program. Offensively, the RedHawks welcome back four offensive line starters as well as Hippenhammer and quarterback Brett Gabbert.

Stoops on his youthful wide receivers: “They’re very instinctual players and that helps. There’s highs and lows and every player on our team is going to have some ups and some downs this year, and freshmen have a tendency, over the years, to have higher highs and lower lows. We want consistency out of them. I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far. They haven’t been perfect but they’ve handled things very well.”

Next game: Kentucky is scheduled to open Southeastern Conference play at Florida on Sept. 10. Miami opens its home schedule against Robert Morris, a Football Championship Subdivision team, at 6 p.m. on Sept. 10.

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