Kentucky, Arkansas square off looking for first SEC win
The Wildcats (2-3, 0-3) have lost three consecutive games and dropped their past two by a combined 52-20 margin at Mississippi State and South Carolina . The Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2) have lost consecutive games by 11 total points and aim to regroup against Kentucky before facing No. 12 Auburn and top-ranked Alabama the next two weeks.
With just over half a season remaining, neither school is panicking while entering Saturday night's first meeting between the schools since 2012. There's urgency nonetheless to improve and finally win in conference play.
"At times I'd give us an A-plus and at other times I'd give us an F," Kentucky junior receiver Lynn Bowden said. "Right now, we're just in the middle of finding ourselves. But we're going to get back to our ways."
Most important among concerns the Wildcats addressed during their break was getting junior quarterback Sawyer Smith healthy after he was banged up in their past two losses. They even worked the versatile Bowden — a former high school QB who has completed 3 of 4 passes for 75 yards this season — behind center last week as a precaution.
Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said he is prepared to go with Smith behind center and noted, "It's a long season and we need him back, and we need him back healthy and playing like he did early on."
Arkansas second-year coach Chad Morris hopes the week off corrected issues as the SEC West team tries to end a 13-game SEC losing streak.
The Razorbacks fell to No. 24 Texas A&M 31-27 but had a late chance for an upset, driving to the Aggies' 19 in the final minute before throwing incomplete on fourth down. That defeat marked progress of sorts from a 31-24 home loss the previous game to San Jose State (a three-touchdown underdog), but still showed the Hogs still have a way to go in the rebuilding process.
"I think they saw that, yes, we could have played better," Morris said this week. "But we know if we can continue to improve, that's the main message here."
Some other things to watch as Kentucky hosts Arkansas on homecoming:
SOLID GROUND GAMES
Kentucky's per-game rushing average of 164.8 yards ranks eighth in the SEC, a couple of a spots above Arkansas (141.8). A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke have combined for 613 yards and five touchdowns, with Smoke averaging 6.2 yards per attempt. The Hogs counter with the conference's No. 3 rusher in junior Rakeem Boyd (483 yards, three TDs), who has averaged 100 yards the past three contests with 91 against the Aggies.
STICKING WITH NICK
Razorbacks QB Nick Starkel left the Texas A&M game with a bruise to his (non-throwing) left arm while tackling Aggie defensive tackle Justin Madubuike on an interception return. He healed during the break and is expected to start. The A&M transfer has passed for 1,019 yards and seven TDs with seven interceptions.
Junior punter Max Duffy leads FBS with an average of 51.2 yards per kick while the Wildcats have the nation's top punting game at 49.3. The Australian became the school's career leader at 46.6 following the loss at South Carolina that featured with a net average of 51.3 yards on school-record nine kicks, including four inside the 20 and no touchbacks.
As junior receiver Lynn Bowden prepares to possibly chip in as an emergency QB, he leads the SEC in all-purpose yards at 140 per game, which ranks 11th nationally. He leads the Wildcats with 30 catches for 348 yards and has a 19-game streak with at least one reception. Bowden is coming off a career-best 44 yards rushing on six carries at South Carolina and is averaging 25 yards per kickoff return.
"He'll be all over the field and we're prepared for that," Morris said, "but the guy is definitely a difference-maker."
Kentucky has designated Saturday as Jared Lorenzen Day to honor the school's career passing yardage leader who died in July. Lorenzen passed for 10,354 yards from 2000-03 but also became famous for yelling that fans were going to "miss one hell of a game" for leaving the 2003 meeting against Arkansas early with the Wildcats trailing. Lorenzen rallied Kentucky before losing 71-63 to the Razorbacks in seven overtimes in Lexington.