NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Kentucky and Western Kentucky want to do more than just get off to good starts with a win Saturday night.
The Wildcats and Hilltoppers also aim to jump-start their new coaches' tenures when the teams meet in Nashville, Tennessee.
Kentucky begins anew with coach Mark Stoops, who's trying to end consecutive losing seasons with a long-term goal of making the Wildcats competitive in the tough Southeastern Conference. WKU is ushering in Bobby Petrino, who brings a resume' of conference titles and bowl games to a program coming off its first taste of the postseason.
The Hilltoppers' breakthrough last year included upsetting the Wildcats. Kentucky desperately wants to start winning again after a 2-10 season, and players acknowledge that avenging that 32-31 loss is added incentive in the season opener.
"That was a down point," Wildcats senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson said of the loss. "I'm going to feed off that, too. Remembering what they did last year, you've got to use some of that (as motivation) but focus on what you've got to do."
Much of the initial attention though will be focused on head coaches making new starts with differing approaches.
Petrino is back on the sideline with WKU for the first time since Arkansas fired him in April 2012 for misleading school officials about a motorcycle accident that eventually revealed his mistress was a passenger and employed by the coach.
Introduced last December to replace Willie Taggart (now at South Florida), the offense-minded Petrino has moved on and is now trying to build the Hilltoppers into a perennial conference and bowl contender. He brings a 75-26 record with seven bowl appearances and four victories including BCS wins to a program eager to follow up last season.
On the other sideline is Stoops, whose knack for improving defenses as coordinator at Arizona and Florida State earned him the job of rebuilding Kentucky, which leads the series 3-1.
Now comes the moment both coaches have spent months preparing their programs for.
"We'll line up Saturday night and see where we are at," said Petrino, 8-0 in season openers.
Here are five things to watch in this intrastate matchup between WKU and Kentucky:
KENTUCKY'S QUARTERBACK: That will be a game-time decision, but indications are Jalen Whitlow will get the starting nod over Maxwell Smith with coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown hinting that both sophomores could play against the Hilltoppers. No matter the choice, their task is getting Brown's Air Raid offense off the ground with a young receiver corps.
WKU'S MULTIPLE THREAT: Petrino plans to utilize the versatility of senior running back Antonio Andrews after he set a school record with 3,161 all-purpose yards last season including 1,728 rushing. Though the Hilltoppers aim to throw the ball often with redshirt junior quarterback Brandon Doughty, that objective hinges on establishing the run and Andrews has shown he's up to that task along with being a receiving option out of the backfield.
WRAP 'EM UP: WKU defensive back Jonathan Dowling recorded three of his six interceptions last season against Kentucky, but the all-Sun Belt Conference selection is now focused on making more plays as well as big plays and being a better tackler. He might want to follow the lead of senior linebacker Andrew Jackson, who had a team-high 122 tackles and two sacks and looms as the Hilltoppers' biggest threat on a defense that returns seven starters.
UNITED FRONT: Kentucky will look to a veteran defensive line to establish its new 4-3 base look and shore up matters after a disastrous 2012 season. Projected starters Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble are healthy again and will anchor the middle. Junior Alvin Dupree moves to end after splitting time between there and linebacker last season with the other side being manned by junior transfer Za'Darius Smith, who was rated as one of the nation's top junior college ends after posting 47 tackles and 6.5 sacks for East Mississippi Community College as a sophomore.
TRASH TALK: Still feeling disrespected by WKU's celebration after last year's win at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky players have suggested that there will be some jawing back-and-forth (and more) in Saturday's series finale. Midweek comments from Jackson dissing the Wildcats and saying that the Hilltoppers will "hit 'em in the mouth" have fanned the flames even more in this budding rivalry.
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