Charlotte at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m Saturday
Where: Commonwealth Stadium
TV: SEC Network Alternate Channel (play-by-play Dave Baker; analysis Clint Stoerner)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 191, Sirius Channel 157
Records: Charlotte 2-8 (0-7 C-USA), Kentucky 4-6 (2-6 SEC)
Series: First meeting.
Line: Kentucky is favored by 24 points
Three key questions
1. How will Drew Barker handle his first career start?
Over Kentucky’s past three games, Patrick Towles completed only 42.5 percent of his passes (34 of 80) and averaged a meager 115.7 yards a game passing with four interceptions and one touchdown. So redshirt freshman Drew Barker, the former Conner High School star, is slated to make his first career start Saturday night. In relief of Towles last week at Vanderbilt, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Barker threw his first career TD pass — and a pick-six. In an ideal Big Blue world, Barker performs so well against Charlotte he re-energizes a dispirited UK fan base for the season finale against Louisville.
2. Can Kentucky make a statement with a fast start?
Charlotte is in its third season as a football program. The 49ers are playing their first season in the FBS. Kentucky will be the first Power Five conference foe Charlotte has ever faced. The visitors from Conference-USA come to Lexington mired in an eight-game losing streak. For all those reasons, a fast break from the starting gate by UK would seem to portend a big win. Letting Charlotte hang around in contention deep into the game, however, could make for a tense, dreary night.
3. Will anyone attend the game?
What seemed a promising UK season has jumped the tracks. Charlotte is not a big draw. The weather forecast looks wet and cold. It would seem a recipe for the smallest crowd in New Commonwealth Stadium history. This week, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops implored Cats fans not to quit on the Wildcats . Given the gloomy atmosphere that surrounds the UK football program, it will be interesting to see how many answer the coach’s call.
Has turned toxic. In our impatient times, Mark Stoops had an unusually long honeymoon, making it 2 1/2 seasons without wide-spread second-guessing. That worm, however, has turned. UK is mired in a five-game losing skid — the second straight season the Cats have collapsed after a positive start. Many thought coaching was the primary reason Kentucky lost a pivotal game at Vanderbilt last week. Beating Charlotte, a third-year football program, is not going to flip public opinion. But UK appearing organized and well-coached while winning decisively would be a step in a positive direction.