Week 7 in the SEC offers an inspirational opportunity for either the visiting Arkansas Razorbacks or the Kentucky Wildcats to get back into the win column and climb out of the conference's cellar. With each team stumbling through the 2019 season to date, which squad will take advantage of the moment for a needed victory in this cross-divisional showdown?
The roller-coaster ride that has been Arkansas’ 2019 football season has given fans reason both for hope and for frustration. The Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2 SEC) avenged a 2018 loss to Colorado State by beating the Rams 55-34, only to drop a home game the following week to San Jose State (31-24). Arkansas bounced back in Week 5, pushing No. 24 Texas A&M to the brink before falling 31-27 in Arlington. With a bye week to prepare, the Hogs are as healthy as they will be for the rest of the season with an offense that picked up 395 yards against a good Aggies defense last time out.
The Halloween chills for the Wildcats (2-3, 0-3) came in early September when starting quarterback Terry Wilson suffered a season-ending torn patellar injury. Kentucky remained hopeful after a strong showing by backup Sawyer Smith in a 267-yard, two-touchdown showing in a losing effort at home against Florida (29-21), but the Wildcats are now in the midst of a three-game slide after losing road games to Mississippi State (31-28) and South Carolina (24-7). Smith, a transfer from Troy, has been on the decline since facing the Gators and is now experiencing right shoulder and wrist injuries.
Arkansas at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Kentucky -6.5
When Arkansas Has the Ball
The win-loss record might throw fans, but the Hogs offense has actually been good, all things considered. The team is picking up 432 yards per game led by a passing attack averaging 290 yards. Ben Hicks began the season as the starting quarterback, but Texas A&M transfer Nick Starkel has taken over. Starkel has talent (he's thrown for 1,019 yards) and is accurate (62 percent), but he can be careless with the ball, throwing seven interceptions. His five-interception game against San Jose State buried the team’s chances for a win. The Wildcats like to bring the pressure on the quarterback and have collected 12 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, and five picks. Starkel will have to be sharp and smart.
Lost amid the mounting losses for Arkansas is the great season Rakeem Boyd is turning in for the Hogs. Boyd is third in the SEC in rushing yards (483) and has three touchdowns and a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. The junior has two 100-yard rushing games (Portland State and Colorado State) and came close to the mark against San Jose State (91) and A&M (89).
Providing balance are four dangerous targets in Mike Woods, Trey Knox, tight end C.J. O’Grady, and Treylon Burks. Woods, Knox, and Burks have been banged up, but each is expected back on the field for Kentucky, which should help Starkel move the chains and open up lanes for the running backs.
With Kentucky's offensive production dwindling, the Wildcats defense has suffered from overwork this season. Kentucky’s defense is allowing 396 yards each time out, 171 rushing and 225 passing. Against the Gamecocks, the Wildcats allowed 247 yards on the ground. Mississippi State also went over the 200-yard mark with 241, scoring three times.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
How well Kentucky plays can be directly linked back to the production under center. Sawyer Smith kept Kentucky in the game against Florida, but he completed just 37 percent of his passes against Mississippi State and 34 percent against South Carolina. Since throwing two touchdown passes against the Gators, he has not found the end zone with his arm and has thrown five picks in his last three games.
In losses to Ole Miss (31-17) and Texas A&M, the Hogs’ defense could not get the job done when called upon. In those games, their third-down defense was atrocious, as the Rebels converted 8-of-15 and the Aggies 5-of-10. Safety Kamren Curl is atop all the statistical categories for Arkansas, leading the team in tackles (39), interceptions (2), fumble recoveries (1), and forced fumbles (1).
The Wildcats have a two-headed monster out of the backfield helping dictate events on the field in Asim Rose (66 carries, 330 yards, 2 TDs) and Kavosiey Smoke (46/283/3). The undisputed leader in the receiving corps for Kentucky is Lynn Bowden Jr. Bowden has 30 receptions for 348 yards with one score. With Wilson out for the season, the Wildcats are missing his dual-threat, big-play capabilities.
Both teams are coming off a bye, giving them time to heal up and prepare. Arkansas has lost 13 consecutive SEC games dating back to Oct. 28, 2017, a 38-37 win over Ole Miss. Kentucky leads the all-time series 4-3 and is 2-1 at home against the Hogs. Arkansas has enough pieces to win an SEC game and to beat Kentucky on the road, but the Hogs have yet to put a full game together on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats are tough at home.
Prediction: Kentucky 24, Arkansas 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.