Mark Story

How Kentucky and Arkansas match up — with a game prediction

How Kentucky (2-3, 0-3 SEC) and Arkansas (2-3, 0-2 SEC) match up at each position for Saturday’s football game at Kroger Field — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky’s Sawyer Smith has been battling as many as three injuries (shoulder, wrist, and what Mark Stoops described Monday as a “lower-extremity” issue). As a result, the graduate transfer from Troy has gone a combined 26-of-74 passing in losses at Mississippi State and South Carolina. If Smith cannot play Saturday night, does UK turn to wide receiver Lynn Bowden or give ex-Lafayette High School star Walker Wood a shot? The Arkansas QB position has been shared by a pair of graduate transfers, Nick Starkel (Texas A&M) and Ben Hicks (SMU). Hicks (36-of-72 passing for 429 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions) started the first two games, then lost the job to Starkel (81-of-131 for 1,019 yards with seven TDs and seven picks). However, Starkel left the Razorbacks’ 31-27 loss to Texas A&M with a bruise on his non-throwing arm; Hicks (15-of-27 for 188 yards with a TD toss) came in and directed the Hogs to a near upset.

Advantage: Arkansas

Running backs

Kentucky redshirt freshman Christopher Rodriguez was the Wildcats’ leading rusher (65 yards on six carries) in the 24-7 loss at South Carolina two weeks ago. After Kavosiey Smoke ran for 251 yards in UK’s first three games, the redshirt freshman has had only 32 yards combined the past two contests (he carried only twice at South Carolina due to a migraine headache). Junior A.J. Rose (330 yards) is Kentucky’s leading rusher. Arkansas’ Rakeem Boyd is third in the SEC in rushing (483 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, three TDs). Backup Devwah Whaley (148 yards) also has three rushing touchdowns and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

Advantage: Arkansas

Rakeem Boyd.JPG
Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd is third in the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 483 yards. Michael Woods AP

Wide receivers

Kentucky slot receiver Lynn Bowden is tied for fifth in the SEC in receptions (30, 348 yards, one TD). Ahmad Wagner, the 6-foot-5, 234-pound former Iowa Hawkeyes basketball power forward, is second in receptions (12, 248 yards) and leads UK in touchdown catches (two). Junior Josh Ali (12 catches, 120 yards, one TD) had three catches at South Carolina. Arkansas sophomore Mike Woods (21 catches, 301 yards) has caught a touchdown in each of the past two games. Trey Knox (21 catches, 299 yards, two scores) and Treylon Burks (13 catches, 230 yards) give Coach Chad Morris a pair of dynamic freshman wideouts.

Advantage: Arkansas

Josh Ali on the sideline.JPG
Kentucky wide receiver Josh Ali tied for the Wildcats’ team lead with three receptions in the 24-7 loss at South Carolina two weeks ago. Brian Simms bsimms@herald-leader.com

Tight ends

Kentucky’s Justin Rigg (seven catches, 64 yards) and Keaton Upshaw (six catches, 70 yards, one TD) have combined for only two receptions (one each) over the past two games. Arkansas senior Cheyenne O’Grady (18 catches, 243 yards, one TD) had eight receptions for a career-high 91 yards in the loss to Texas A&M.

Advantage: Arkansas

Cheyenne O’Grady.JPG
Arkansas tight end Cheyenne O’Grady (85) had eight catches for a career-high 91 yards in the Razorbacks’ 31-27 loss to Texas A&M two weeks ago. Ron Jenkins AP

Offensive line

Led by senior left guard Logan Stenberg and redshirt junior center Drake Jackson, the veteran Kentucky offensive line needs to reassert itself and help the Cats reestablish their running game. Arkansas junior center Ty Clary has started 16 straight games and is the anchor of the Razorbacks front.

Advantage: Kentucky

Drake Jackson snapping ball.JPG
Kentucky center Drake Jackson, the former Woodford County High School star, has started 25 consecutive games for UK. Brian Simms bsimms@herald-leader.com

Defensive line

Kentucky tackle Calvin Taylor (seven tackles, one sack, a forced fumble) and end T.J. Carter (six stops, one tackle for loss) had good stat lines at South Carolina. However, a UK rush defense that has allowed each of its past two foes two 100-yards-plus rushers needs to stiffen. Arkansas end Gabe Richardson, a 6-3, 240-pound senior, forced a fumble against Texas A&M that was returned for a touchdown. Tackle McTelvin Agim (15 tackles, four TFL, three sacks, three QB hurries), a 6-3, 300-pound senior, is one of the better interior defensive linemen in the SEC.

Advantage: Even

McTelvin Agim.JPG
Arkansas defensive tackle McTelvin Agim (3) had 10 tackles for loss in 2018. He was the first Razorbacks player with double-digit TFL since 2015. Ronald Martinez TNS

Linebackers

UK sophomore WLB DeAndre Square (35 tackles, three TFL, three QB hurries) is eighth in the SEC in tackles. OLB/rush end Boogie Watson (15 tackles, four TFL, 2.5 sacks) had a disruptive trip to South Carolina with two sacks and two hurries. Arkansas’ De’Jon Harris (34 tackles, two TFL, two pass breakups) scored a TD on a 6-yard return of a fumble recovery vs. Texas A&M.

Advantage: Kentucky

UKfootballLEDE.JPG
Kentucky sophomore linebacker DeAndre Square (17) is eighth in the SEC with 35 tackles. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Defensive backs

Kentucky free safety Yusuf Corker had a team-high nine tackles in the loss at South Carolina. Mark Stoops said Monday that senior strong safety Jordan Griffin “is pretty close to 100 percent” after a “lower-body injury” limited his playing time in the prior two games. Arkansas strong safety Kamren Curl is fifth in the SEC in tackles (39) and had 12 stops against Texas A&M. Cornerback Montaric Brown made his first career interception vs. A&M.

Advantage: Even

Kamren Curl.JPG
Arkansas strong safety Kamren Curl (2) is fifth in the SEC in tackles with 39. Michael Woods AP

Special teams

UK’s Max Duffy continues to lead the nation in punting, averaging 51.2 yards a kick and has stopped 12 of his 23 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Walk-on Matt Ruffolo tried Kentucky’s sole place-kick at South Carolina, a successful PAT. After he replaced an injured Chance Poore, Ruffolo hit a 29-yard field goal at Mississippi State. Lynn Bowden leads the SEC in punt returning (17.7 yards a return) and kickoff returns (25 yards a return). If Bowden plays quarterback, Mark Stoops said Monday that Josh Ali (punts) and true freshman Travis Tisdale (kickoffs) could assume his return duties. Arkansas punter Sam Loy is 12th in the SEC, averaging 38.6 yards a kick. Place-kicker Connor Limpert is a weapon, having converted eight of 10 with a long of 54 yards. De’Vion Warren is third in the SEC in kickoff returns (20.9 yards a return).

Advantage: Even

Max Duffy punting.JPG
Kentucky’s Max Duffy leads the nation in punting with an average of 51.2 yards a kick. Brian Simms bsimms@herald-leader.com

Prediction

Arkansas 28, Kentucky 20

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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