How Kentucky (4-6) and Charlotte (2-8) match up for Saturday night’s football game in Commonwealth Stadium:
The face of Kentucky’s ballyhooed 2014 recruiting class, Drew Barker will make his first career start Saturday night. In limited action in three games, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Barker has completed 13 of 19 passes for 107 yards with one TD and two interceptions. At Conner High School, Barker threw for 6,264 yards and 62 touchdowns in his career. Charlotte has started three different QBs in 2015 — redshirt freshman Brooks Barden, and juniors Lee McNeill and Matt Johnson. That trio has combined to throw 19 interceptions. Barden started last week in the overtime loss to Texas-San Antonio and threw for 127 yards and a TD. In relief, Johnson passed for 116 yards and two scores — but also threw an interception in the end zone in overtime.
Kentucky standout Boom Williams ran for 115 yards in the loss at Vanderbilt, the sophomore’s fourth 100-plus-yards rushing game of the season. His costly fumble at the UK 4 yard line set up a Vandy touchdown, however. Charlotte’s Kalif Phillips is third in Conference USA with an average of 96.1 rushing yards a game. He left last week’s game in the first quarter due to a knee injury but is expected back this week. He needs 39 yards to go over 1,000 for the season.
What has been a largely lost season for former Franklin County star Ryan Timmons brightened a little when the junior caught his first touchdown pass of the season from Drew Barker at Vandy. Dorian Baker led Kentucky receivers with seven catches last week. Austin Duke is Charlotte’s top receiver (47 catches, 5 TDs). The 5-9, 161-pound slot receiver had three touchdown receptions at Florida International — each TD thrown by a different quarterback.
Since catching six passes at Mississippi State, Kentucky true freshman C.J. Conrad has had only two receptions since. One of them came last week for 8 yards at Vanderbilt. Charlotte H-back Richard Murphy (14 receptions) is coming off a huge performance, four receptions for 56 yards and two touchdowns, against Texas-San Antonio.
You might think Kentucky senior left tackle Jordan Swindle and the rest of a beleaguered UK offensive front would be getting a break against a foe which has only been playing football for three seasons. That is not necessarily the case, however, as Charlotte has recorded 73 tackles for loss this season. Charlotte left tackle Jamal Covington, a 6-4, 305-pound junior, anchors a 49ers line that has fared better at run blocking (fourth in C-USA at 168.4 yards a game) than pass protection (allowed a whopping 37 sacks).
Kentucky senior end Farrington Huguenin (10 tackles) and senior tackle Cory Johnson (eight stops) led a defense that deserved a better fate at Vanderbilt. Charlotte nose tackle Larry Ogunjobi has had a stellar season. The 6-3, 294-pound junior is tied for the team high with 52 tackles and has 13.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two QB hurries and a blocked kick.
UK strong-side linebacker Jason Hatcher, shaking off the effects of a lingering ankle injury, played with energy at Vandy. The junior from Trinity High School had eight tackles, two that went for loss. Charlotte inside linebacker Nick Cook is one of three players tied for the team lead in tackles (52) but is unlikely to play against Kentucky due to injury. The 49ers’ other ILB, Caleb Clayton-Molby also has 52 tackles, 6.5 for loss.
Though Kentucky senior safety A.J. Stamps has lost his starting job to redshirt freshman Mike Edwards, Stamps delivered several punishing hits at Vandy en route to a five-tackle game. Edwards, meanwhile, made six stops against the Commodores. Charlotte cornerback Terrance Winchester leads the 49ers with three interceptions and is tied for the team lead with five pass breakups.
UK’s special teams were a dumpster fire at Vanderbilt. The Cats had to burn a timeout due to confusion in punt formation. They were called for illegal formation on a punt. UK took a delay of game on a field goal — then missed after the kick penalty was assessed. And Kentucky had a punt blocked. Charlotte place-kicker Blake Brewer has a big leg (hit a 56-yard field goal against Florida International) but is inconsistent (13-of-23 field goals, 3-of-10 from outside 40 yards). Punter Arthur Hunt is averaging only 38.4 yards a kick, but has pinned foes inside their 20 yard line 17 times.
Kentucky 37, Charlotte 19
Mark Story: 859-231-3230, @markcstory