Kentucky looks for their first conference victory of the season.
LEXINGTON, October 11, 2019 – Bradley Charles – Bluegrass Sports Nation
On Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats (2-3, 0-3 SEC) host the Arkansas Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2 SEC). Kentucky enters Saturday’s game on a three-game losing streak. Similarly, Arkansas enters Saturday riding a two-game losing streak. ESPN’s Football Power Index currently gives Kentucky an 80.2% chance of defeating the Razorbacks.
Kentucky leads the all-time series against the Razorbacks 4-3, including a 2-1 record in Lexington. The last meeting between these two teams in Lexington came in 2008, when Kentucky walked away with a 21-20 victory.
Who’s going to be the quarterback for Kentucky on Saturday?
Over the last few weeks, the most popular topic of conversation about Kentucky football concerns Sawyer Smith’s health. Smith has been dealing with a number of injuries over the past few weeks and was clearly not 100% in Kentucky’s last game, at South Carolina.
On Monday, Coach Stoops said, “He (Sawyer Smith) took a solid week off, and he needed that. The word I got from our trainer here this morning was that he feels significantly better. … He’s banged up, you guys know that. You know the other options that we have been working, but we’ll proceed with Sawyer, and anticipate him being the starting quarterback and being able to play this week. So that’s the plan and we’ll see how the week goes.”
Stoops’ comments make it clear that Smith would play if healthy. According to Stoops’ comments, as of Monday, Kentucky’s plan is to start Sawyer Smith on Saturday. However, he was clear in stating that the plan might change depending on Sawyer’s health and how it progresses through the week.
Ultimately, there has been a great deal of speculation as to who will get the majority of the reps at quarterback this weekend for the Cats. There is a sizeable amount of BBN who feel as though it will be Lynn Bowden that receives the bulk of the plays at quarterback on Saturday. Bowden is a dynamic player; he leads the conference in all-purpose yards while ranking high in several other categories.
On Thursday, both Mark Stoops and Sawyer Smith talked to the media. “I’ve been practicing all week, I’m ready for the game. Any questions about injuries go to Coach Stoops and Coach Gran and Coach Hinshaw. I’m not a doctor, I’m out here playing football and having fun with it,” said Sawyer Smith.
Stoops was asked, “Mark, everybody all week told us to ask you about the quarterback, so we have to ask you…” Stoops jokingly replied, “You’re funny.” After the laughter died down, Stoops went on to say “I mean, guys, quit asking me because you know I try to be good and fair to you guys and give you a lot of information; I give you a lot more than most, trust me. The situation is what it is and (it) does me no good to sit here and continually talk about it. We’re going to play with the guys that we feel give us the best opportunity to win.”
One thing is for sure, Coach Stoops is going to make Arkansas prepare for the possibility of both Sawyer Smith and Lynn Bowden. Personally, I think that even if Sawyer Smith does start against Arkansas, Lynn Bowden will receive reps at quarterback on Saturday.
Important stats on both teams.
Offensively, Kentucky is averaging 23.4 points per game on the season while passing for 212.8 yards per game and rushing for 164.8 yards per game. Since we do not know who Kentucky’s starting quarterback will be on Saturday, it is hard to breakdown the offense.
Despite this, we do know that Ahmad Wagner will lineup as a wide receiver on Saturday. Wagner ranks second in the SEC in yards per reception (20.67) behind Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III (21.24).
As for the running backs, A.J. Rose averages over 13 carries per game to go along with 66 rushing yards per game. Kavosiey Smoke, is averaging over nine carries per game to go along with nearly 57 rushing yards per game.
As for the Kentucky defense, sophomore linebacker DeAndre Square leads the team with 35 total tackles on the season. Jamar Watson leads the team in sacks with 2.5 out of Kentucky’s 12 sacks on the season. The Cats have five interceptions on the season, each of which was made by a different player. Kentucky has allowed 34 points or less in 19 consecutive games, their longest such streak since 1986. It is the third-longest such streak in FBS.
As for the Razorbacks, the team is averaging nearly 29 points per game while allowing 28 points per game. The Razorback offense is averaging nearly 432 total yards per game, nearly 290 of which come through the air. On the season, Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd leads the team in both rushing attempts (91) and rushing yards (483). Devwah Whaley places second in each category with 148 rushing yards on 35 rushing attempts.
Both Nick Starkel and Ben Hicks have seen meaningful time at quarterback this season. Starkel has played in every game this season while Hicks has only played in three games. As for the receivers, both Mike Woods and Trey Knox have essentially the same stats. Both Woods and Knox have 21 receptions, two touchdowns, and essentially 300 yards receiving on the season.
The Arkansas defense is led in total tackles by junior cornerback Kamren Curl who has 39 on the season. Curl also leads the team in interceptions with two on the season. Defensive lineman Jamario Bell leads the team in sacks with 3.5 on the season. The most points the Razorbacks have allowed an opponent to score on the season is 34 which came against Colorado State.
Saturday’s impact on the season.
Realistically, if Kentucky is going to have a bowl-eligible season, Saturday’s matchup against Arkansas is a must-win game. It is plausible for the Cats to become bowl-eligible even with a loss to Arkansas, but the level of difficulty would greatly increase. When analyzing Kentucky’s schedule after Arkansas (listed below) it is clear this week’s game with Arkansas is very critical.
Final Six Regular Season Games:
At Georgia, October 19th
Vs Missouri, October 26th
Vs Tennessee November 9th
At Vanderbilt, November 16th
Vs Tennessee Martin, November 23rd
Vs Louisville, November 30th
If Kentucky loses to Arkansas, the Cats would have to win four of their final six regular season games to become bowl-eligible. That six-game stretch includes a matchup at Georgia and a pair of rivalry games at home to Tennessee and Louisville.
At this point, with the extensive amount of injuries the team has suffered, I think that a six-win regular season would be more than acceptable. Personally, I think the main focus at this point is to keep the recruiting class intact; and with all of the injuries Kentucky has dealt with on the season, six wins would be enough to do that. Currently, Kentucky’s 2020 recruiting class ranks 28th in the country, according to ESPN. As long as this season does not negatively affect the recruiting class, then I think BBN should be happy with the season. Yes, some fans will be disappointed, but the disappointment comes from the injuries to Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith, which is something that is essentially uncontrollable.
A win over Arkansas would be Mark Stoops’ 39th career victory at Kentucky, which would tie him with Rich Brooks for the fifth most wins of any coach in school history. A victory on Saturday would also give Stoops 29 home victories as the Kentucky head football coach, which would tie him with Fran Curci for the second most home wins by a head coach in program history.
Saturday’s game has been designated as Jared Lorenzen Day to honor the legendary former Kentucky quarterback who passed away in July.
The game will air on the SEC Network and is scheduled to begin at 7:30.
BSN will be at Kroger Field to bring you all of the action from the Cat Walk to postgame comments from players and coaches!!