LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Home game. Extra week to prepare and heal. Worst team from the SEC West, as well as a team with a long conference losing streak, as the opponent.
I can’t think of many more things that could be in Kentucky’s favor as the Wildcats try to end their three-game losing streak when Arkansas visits Kroger Field on Saturday night.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Kentucky an 80.2% win probability for Saturday, easily their best number in a Southeastern Conference game for the remainder of the season.
Here is a preview of the Wildcats/Razorbacks.
1. Time: 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday
2. Where to Watch: SEC Network; DirecTV 611; Spectrum 516; U-verse 1607; Dish Network 404.
3. The Line: Kentucky by 6 1/2; over/under 53 1/2.
4. Scouting Arkansas: The Razorbacks come to Lexington, Kentucky, lugging the longest conference losing streak of any SEC school — 13 games. Their last SEC win was Oct. 28, 2017, at Ole Miss, 38-37. The Razorbacks have remained inconsistent this season, delivering a solid performance while losing 31-27 to No. 24 Texas A&M a week after an embarrassing 31-24 home loss to San Jose State.
Here are the two Razorbacks to remember:
*No. 17 — quarterback Nick Starkel, who threw for three touchdowns against San Jose State and Colorado State. Although Starkel has thrown for more than 1,000 yards, Kentucky cannot allow itself to be beaten by the Arkansas quarterback. He leads the SEC with seven interceptions while completing less than 61% of his passes.
*No. 5 — halfback Rakeem Boyd. This is the guy Kentucky must stop. Boyd ranks second in the SEC in rushing yards per game at 96.6 while averaging 5.31 yards per carry. Boyd has two 100-yard games but was limited to 67 yards by Ole Miss and 89 by Texas A&M.
Arkansas ranks seventh in the SEC in total offense but 12th in total defense. The Razorbacks' defense also ranks 12th in stopping third-down conversions.
5. Scouting Kentucky: The Wildcats started with wins over a pair of Mid-American Conference teams that have gone on to win seven off their other eight games. But UK’s margin of defeat grew from eight to 15 to 17 over its current three-game losing streak, all against programs the Wildcats defeated in 2018.
Kentucky has urgency for improvement on both sides of the ball, ranking 12th in the SEC in total offense and 11th in total defense. Compared to last season, UK is down about 0.2 yards per play on offense, but the defense is allowing 0.74 more yards per play. Kentucky has also slipped from a plus-0.15 in turnover margin to minus 0.20.
In a league where six teams have already thrown at least 10 touchdown passes, Kentucky ranks 13th in the SEC with six. The Wildcats do have the best punter in the nation in Max Duffy.
6. Spotlight player: Logan Stenberg, the anchor of Kentucky's offensive line at left guard.
Prior to the season, UK’s offensive line was billed as the strongest unit of the team, with Stenberg the headline player as well as the guy the Wildcats’ promoted at SEC Media Day in July.
But UK’s offensive line play has been good, not great. Kentucky ranks seventh in the SEC in yards per carry at 4.71 and the Wildcats are 12th in third-down conversions, making only 23 of 67. Their .343 success rate ranks ahead of only South Carolina and Vanderbilt. A year ago, the Wildcats conversion percentage was close to 40%.
It’s time for Stenberg and the offensive line to deliver.
7. Sideline storyline: This is a MUST WIN (caps lock, italics intended) for Kentucky. The Wildcats have already dropped three SEC games against opponents they defeated last season and they face their most difficult trip of the season to Georgia next week. Arkansas is considered the worst team in the SEC West, and a loss Saturday would assure a losing record in conference play. It would also inspire legitimate questions about Kentucky’s ability to earn a bowl bid.
This will also be a key game for the how the remainder of the season will unfold at quarterback. UK has yet to announce its starter at that position for the Arkansas game. Sawyer Smith’s injuries have improved but affected his performance at Mississippi State and South Carolina, and Mark Stoops has been unwilling to concede that Smith will direct the offense.
"Nice try," Stoops said Thursday after another question about whether Smith has any say about his availability to play quarterback against the Razorbacks.
"Nice try. Nice try," Stoops said. "That was good. That was good. Very creative and good. Friendly. I like it. I like it a lot. Two years ago, you would have gotten me."
Stoops has an important decision to make: Keep Smith in control and hope that he is healthy enough to eliminate his mistakes and improve his completions, or turn the offense over to receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. for the remainder of the season.
8. Fan tip: Saturday’s game has been designated Jared Lorenzen Day to honor former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who died in July. Fans can use the offer code “TWENTYTWO” exclusively online at Ticketmaster.com to receive $22 off tickets to the Arkansas game in select areas of Kroger Field. This offer is exclusively online, while supplies last.
🎟- Kentucky vs. Arkansas📍-Kroger Field🕰-7:30 PM📺- SEC Network #22💙 pic.twitter.com/lhfygJf4fl— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 11, 2019
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