UK Football

Kentucky vs. Arkansas predictions: Will the Cats start a wide receiver at quarterback?

It’s almost game time. Here are some final thoughts on what might occur when Kentucky hosts Arkansas at Kroger Field this Saturday:

Lynn Bowden, QB-1

Sawyer Smith, at 100-percent health, is the answer to Kentucky’s quarterback woes. But Smith did not throw last week and, while he’s been a participant in practice this week, head coach Mark Stoops since Monday has shied away from specifics when talking about UK’s ball tossers.

“I’m leaving that alone the rest of the week,” Stoops said during the Southeastern Conference’s weekly teleconference Wednesday, before saying he would not go into any more detail about the position other than that all the guys were practicing. Eddie Gran on Tuesday was in line-step with Stoops and would not say anything beyond that. Even defensive coordinator Brad White was pressed for insight, just to cover all the bases.

“I have no idea,” White said with a laugh when asked about Smith’s arm. “That’s the wrong person to ask.”

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Smith’s injuries probably don’t completely explain away his dip in production since an impressive showing against Florida, but they’re certainly a factor, if not the biggest. A week without a throw seemed to help Smith “significantly,” and as of Monday the staff anticipated a game plan with Smith as its starter.

Plans change, though, and my suspicion (like that of many media and fans) is that Lynn Bowden will start at quarterback for UK against the Razorbacks. He ran with the No. 1 squad for the entirety of last week and continued to see time with them this week; if UK felt like Smith was ready to go, wouldn’t it serve the team better if Bowden spent most of practice at his actual position?

Maybe Bowden’s reps have been a red herring all along, but my gut says he’s under center on Saturday. And if Smith isn’t all the way right, that’s the right call. Let him heal for the home stretch.

Power punting

Max Duffy’s big leg could be a difference-maker when called upon against the Razorbacks; if UK’s offense stalls as frequently Saturday as it has the last two weeks, it’ll need it to be.

Duffy leads the nation in punting average — 51.2 yards per attempt — and drew hefty praise from ESPN’s Bill Connelly this week.

“We are living in a golden age of punting, friends, and Duffy is our new king,” Connelly wrote.

On the flip side, Arkansas punter Sam Loy ranks 12th in the league with an average of 38.6 yards; that’s a whole down’s difference, potentially. Even if Kentucky fails to march downfield with regularity, if it can get a defensive effort similar to what it did at South Carolina, there could be short fields with which to work while, on the flip side, it creates longer fields for Arkansas.

This could be the ideal week for Duffy to finally let loose for a pass or run out of the punt formation. It looked like there was a golden opportunity in Columbia for a fake two weeks ago; he’s bound to get the signal to take off at some point this season. Particularly if things are tight early, it’d be a fun way to get what could be a lukewarm crowd’s juices going, if nothing else.

Decisive disruption

Both teams have been bogged down by quarterback uncertainty. Whichever team is able to turn those doubts into positives will leave Kroger Field a winner.

I think, for Kentucky, that would come more in the form of wreaking havoc against whomever starts and finishes for the Razorbacks rather than a dynamite showing from whatever guy takes the snaps.

Both defenses give up nearly 400 yards per game overall, but Kentucky (eighth in the SEC at 224.6 yards) has fared slightly better against passing attacks than have the Hogs (11th, 251.8). Each squad has picked off five passes, but UK’s have been spread across five players, two of whom are middle linebackers (Kash Daniel and DeAndre Square).

UK’s interior was pointed to as a strength throughout the preseason and will need to live up to that hype against a front that’s helped Arkansas generate 298.9 yards a game through the air, fourth best in the SEC after LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M.

Final score

Kentucky 31, Arkansas 21: This game is crucial to the bowl hopes of both teams, but UK will have the advantage of a friendly Homecoming crowd in addition to the emotional jolt that’s sure to be in effect as the school celebrates the late Jared Lorenzen during the game. ESPN’s football power index favors the Cats even more than it did in the preseason, when the Razorbacks were picked to finish as the worst team in the league. That’s hard to believe, given the Wildcats’ terrible injury luck and the woes that have ensued in light of that, but perhaps the Worldwide Leader knows something we don’t.

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Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.
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