UK Football

How Kentucky and New Mexico State match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones sacked Southern Mississippi quarterback Nick Mullens in the season opener. Through two games, Jones, a sophomore linebacker, leads UK with 28 tackles, including three tackles for loss.
Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones sacked Southern Mississippi quarterback Nick Mullens in the season opener. Through two games, Jones, a sophomore linebacker, leads UK with 28 tackles, including three tackles for loss.

How Kentucky and New Mexico State match up at every position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky’s Drew Barker suffered through a difficult outing (2-of-10 passing for 10 yards with three interceptions) in a 45-7 loss at Florida. Since going 11-of-19 passing for 287 yards and four TDs in the first half against Southern Mississippi, Barker is 6-of-15 for 47 yards with four interceptions. Backup Stephen Johnson II (1-of-3 passing for 45 yards; 7 rushes for 9 yards) led UK’s only scoring drive at Florida. New Mexico State’s Tyler Rogers threw the game-winning pass in the Aggies’ 32-31 come-from-behind win last week over archrival New Mexico. On the season, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound senior is a 50 percent passer (38-of-76 for 411 yards with two TDs and no picks) and NMSU’s leading rusher (84 net yards on 25 carries).

Advantage: Even

Running backs

Kentucky’s Boom Williams (66 yards on 12 carries) was the Wildcats’ only effective playmaker at Florida. The 5-9, 196-pound junior from Monroe, Ga., is UK’s leading rusher this season (160 yards on 25 carries, 6.4 yards a carry). New Mexico State star Larry Rose III ran for 1,651 yards and 14 TDs last season, but the 5-11, 190-pound junior has yet to play this season while recovering from sports-hernia surgery. In Rose III’s absence, senior Xavier Hall (69 yards on 17 carries) and freshman Jason Huntley (54 yards on 13 rushes) have filled in.

Advantage: Kentucky

Wide receivers

Speedy Kentucky junior Jeff Badet caught a pass for 45 yards and rushed for 25 yards to make his two touches in The Swamp count. Badet, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior from Orlando, and redshirt freshman Tavin Richardson are the only UK wideouts who caught passes in each of Kentucky’s two games. New Mexico State’s Gregory Hogan (four catches, 41 yards for season) caught the game-winning TD against New Mexico. OJ Clark, a redshirt freshman, leads NMSU with 10 catches (albeit for only 54 yards). Tyrian Taylor, who caught 39 passes with four TDs last year, has only two catches so far in 2016.

Advantage: Kentucky

Tight ends

After all the preseason chatter about how UK would make greater use of C.J. Conrad and Greg Hart in 2016, the two tight ends have made one catch (for 5 yards, by Conrad) in the first two games. New Mexico State’s Jackson Solbeck, a 6-4, 260-pound sophomore, has the only two catches (for 12 yards) by Aggies’ tight ends.

Advantage: Kentucky

Offensive line

Ex-Lafayette High School star Landon Young, Kentucky’s first five-star recruit in the Internet recruiting service era, saw his first college action at left tackle at Florida. Mark Stoops said Young “did some good things, showed the talent we knew he had.” If starting left tackle Cole Mosier is unable to go after injuring an ankle at Florida, it will be interesting to see whether Young gets the start. The center of the New Mexico State line, led by center Anthony McMeans and right guard Abram Holland, is the Aggies’ strength. NMSU tackles Sage Doxtater and Sebastian Anderson are both freshmen.

Advantage: Even

Defensive line

Junior-college transfer nose guard Naquez Pringle led UK linemen in tackles (five) at Florida, and DT Adrian Middleton, a South Warren product, added four. New Mexico State end Jassavia Reece had six tackles in the win over New Mexico, including sharing in a quarterback sack.

Advantage: New Mexico State

Linebackers

Kentucky sophomore Jordan Jones has been a bright spot, following his 19-tackle effort in the opener with nine more stops in The Swamp. NMSU’s linebackers all recorded double-digit tackles in the win over New Mexico. MLB Rodney Butler had 24 tackles, two off the school record. SLB Terrill Hanks had 15 stops and an interception. WLB Dalton Herrington made 12 tackles and forced a fumble.

Advantage: New Mexico State

Defensive backs

After lauding the potential of the UK secondary in the preseason, Mark Stoops expressed disappointment Monday with how it has played so far. The UK coach said true freshman cornerback Jordan Griffin would start to see more action. New Mexico State CB DeMarcus Owens forced a fumble and returned it 50 yards for a TD in the opening loss to UTEP and had a pass breakup last week against New Mexico.

Advantage: Kentucky

Special teams

In his first road game as a college punter, Kentucky freshman Grant McKinniss averaged 43.4 yards on five kicks, with one punt downed inside the Gators’ 20. Place-kicker Austin MacGinnis missed from 34 yards at Florida, his only try this season. True freshman Benny Snell averaged 24 yards on two kickoff returns last week. New Mexico State place-kicker Parker Davidson hit four field goals (45, 41, 37 and 30 yards) in the win over New Mexico and is 5-of-5 on the season. Punter Payton Theisler averaged a booming 58 yards on two kicks last week and is averaging 50.6 yards on nine kicks for the season.

Advantage: New Mexico State

Prediction

Kentucky 35, New Mexico State 24

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