With a few days left before kickoff, about 50,000 tickets are out for Kentucky’s home football game against Arkansas on Saturday.
It’s not a sellout — that amount’s roughly 11,000 shy of Kroger Field’s capacity — but it’s more than double the amount of people who will sit in Rupp Arena to watch Big Blue Madness on Friday night.
Now, will 50,000 folks actually show up? Temperatures could dip into the 30s by game time, fans have had almost two full weeks to stew on the offensive struggle that occurred at South Carolina, and the Cats’ quarterback situation is, at best, shaky. Those factors — on top of a three-game losing streak — do not exactly make it easy to justify stepping away from the flat screen and fridge.
Let’s make the case for why one should.
1. Jared Lorenzen Day
There are several extracurricular events surrounding Kentucky’s date with Arkansas. It is the school’s 104th Homecoming celebration as well as Teacher Appreciation Day (FYI, teachers can use their school email to purchase $35 tickets in select sections of the field by visiting UKathletics.com/EYFT). However, both are sure to take a back seat to UK’s recognition of the late Jared Lorenzen on Saturday.
UK in late August designated this game as “Jared Lorenzen Day” and since then has offered a discount code, “TWENTYTWO,” for this game that gets attendees $22 off tickets purchased through Ticketmaster (the code was still valid as of Tuesday morning). Commemorative rally towels will be given to fans upon entry, Lorenzen’s family and former teammates will be celebrated, and highlights from his past performances are likely to be commonplace on the Kroger Field big screens.
Lorenzen’s connection with Kentucky fans during and well after his playing days helped demonstrate the passion that exists for football in this state regardless of on-the-field success; he put up some eye-popping statistics but UK finished with a winning record just once in Lorenzen’s four seasons.
“He’s a beloved player here and rightfully so,” Mark Stoops said Monday. “I think because any player, you’re going to have respect for if they go out there and lay it on the line for your team week in and week out. And I think any time you go back and watch any of his films and see the things that he’s done, and trying to put the weight of the team on his shoulders and running it, passing, spinning around, tossing it any which way to make plays for his team, it’s hard not to admire that. I think that’s what everybody remembers.”
It’s hard to believe there’s a better place to commune and celebrate Lorenzen’s legacy than Kroger Field on any fall Saturday, but this one should be something to behold.
2. Witness weirdness
October’s great for haunts, spooks and oddities. It’s appropriate then that at this juncture Kentucky has developed one of the strangest quarterback situations in the country.
The coaching staff says it wants to start Sawyer Smith against the Hogs, and there’s no reason to disbelieve that is their desire. If Smith is 100-percent healthy, as he was for most of the game against Florida, he’s definitively the best option Kentucky has. But, will his arm hold up through a week of practice and against another SEC defense that knows he’s wounded? We’ll see.
Despite what the depth chart says, wide receiver Lynn Bowden seems likely to be the Wildcats’ starter if Smith isn’t, or would be the first man to step in if Smith can’t finish the game. Bowden played the position in high school and has been effective as a wildcat option in spots, but going the whole game is a completely different matter.
Randall Cobb and Matt Roark both proved non-quarterbacks can win games as starters at the position, and Bowden might get a chance to extend that legacy. If the third chapter is written in UK’s weird history of catchers-turned-throwers, don’t you want to be able to say, “I was there when …?”
3. Must-win game?
Stoops on Monday dismissed the notion of this being a “must-win” or “season-defining” game. It’s comical, he said, to look back and remember being asked with regularity about games having a “make-or-break” designation through most of his UK tenure.
“I was like, what game isn’t? You know what I mean?” Stoops said. “I think that’s all I heard for six years every week in here. … I had to chuckle inside because every game’s important to us, and I don’t mean any disrespect by that answer. It’s just we, as coaches, I don’t care who we’re playing, what we’re doing, the way we lead up to a game, the way we prepare, all that is really most important to me. The results are the results. We all want to win, but things happen in games that you can’t predict. That’s why everybody loves watching it.”
It is important, though, for Kentucky to defeat any opponent it can through the remainder of the season. At 2-3, the Wildcats have seven attempts left to reach six wins and become bowl eligible, and Arkansas is as good a candidate for the “halfway” victory as any team left on their schedule. The Razorbacks rank 93rd overall in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings (Kentucky is 58th), better only than Vanderbilt (96th) in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas, like UK, is 2-3 but one of their losses was to San Jose State, a non-Power Five program that’s 2-2 on the year. One of the Razorbacks’ wins was 20-13 over Portland State, an FCS team that’s now 3-3.
Kentucky, of course, is coming off its worst performance of the year while Arkansas at times looked its best in a 31-27 loss to Texas A&M despite losing its starting quarterback. A strong outpouring of support from fans after three weeks away could be a difference-maker not just on Saturday, but for UK’s spirit (and that of fans) the rest of the season.
It’s a game that matters, because they all matter, but perhaps this one does matter a little more than Stoops will let on. A big turnout prior to kickoff would endorse that rationale.
“I think just common sense, the way we haven’t played very good and the way we have had some losses, yeah, it’s important to me,” Stoops said. “It’s the next game, it’s at home, it’s a conference game, so it’s important.”
Arkansas at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)