The Kentucky Wildcats (5-0, 3-0 SEC) will tread on unaccustomed ground come Saturday when they travel to Kyle Field to take on the Texas A&M Aggies (3-2, 1-1). The Wildcats last played in College Station in 1952, and the last time they started a season 5-0 was in 2007. While Kentucky is one of the surprise teams of the 2018 season, the Aggies are looking to regain some magic of their own coming off a tough win against Arkansas.
The Wildcats have sent out three statement notices to fellow SEC programs with a road win against Florida (27-16) and stout home wins against Mississippi State (28-7) and South Carolina (24-10). The win over the Bulldogs should have rung the bell, but the signature win against the Gamecocks fully got everyone’s attention. Kentucky controlled the time of possession 34:44 to 25:16 and the flow of the game against USC behind Benny Snell Jr., the nation’s fourth-best rusher and the SEC leader, and with a defense that used a bend-but-don’t-break approach.
After a tough 45-23 road loss to No. 1 Alabama, Texas A&M took advantage of poor Arkansas special teams play and returned the opening kickoff for a score, which was the difference in a tight 24-17 win over the Hogs. Junior tailback Trayveon Williams came to play for A&M, rushing 29 times for 153 yards with two scores in the win. The Razorbacks were able to keep dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond in check on the ground and in the passing attack, perhaps providing a blueprint for the Wildcats.
Kentucky at Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas A&M -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Benny Snell Jr. vs. the Aggies’ defense
Snell has earned the workhorse label. He leads all FBS players with 115 carries, piling up 639 yards on the ground with eight scores along the way. The stats are not an illusion: He boasts a 27-carry, 175-yard game against Florida, a 25-carry, 165-yard game against MSU, and a 28-carry, 99-yard performance against the Gamecocks. With each game, Snell puts the team on his back and carries the load.
A&M is starting to find its footing under new defensive coordinator Mike Elko. The Aggies are one of the best in the nation against the run, holding teams to 85 yards per game on average, sixth best in the nation. Something must give.
2. Terry Wilson vs. the Aggies’ secondary
There comes a time in every game when a quarterback is forced to make a play to keep a drive alive or to put six on the board. If the Aggies’ run defense remains tough against Snell, Kentucky QB Terry Wilson will have to step up his game. On the season, Wilson has largely been accurate, hitting 67 percent of his attempts, but he has not taken care of the ball, with five interceptions to two touchdown passes.
With Snell always gaining positive yards, Kentucky typically has not fallen behind the chains, converting 47 percent of its third-down attempts. A&M is one of the best in the nation at getting off the field, allowing only a 25 percent conversion rate, third best in the country. Can Wilson get it done when called upon?
3. The Aggies' offense vs. Wildcats' defense
A good defense will travel, and Kentucky has just that, allowing only 289 total yards per game on average. The linebacker play has been great, especially with Josh Allen coming off the end. The Wildcats’ second-leading tackler, Kash Daniel, will miss the first half due to suspension, leaving a big hole in the defense for two quarters.
Thanks to Williams' power running, A&M stayed in the game against the Hogs. Mond turned in an even worse performance against Arkansas than against Alabama, tossing two picks in both contests but throwing for a score against the Tide. Mond has the ability to light it up; he torched Clemson for 430 yards with three touchdowns in Week 2. Can he come through in a yet another high-profile matchup?
The two key matchups to watch for on Saturday: Snell vs. the Aggies run defense and Mond vs. Kentucky’s defense. If either star is stalled, who will step up to make the big plays?
This is essentially a must-win for A&M, as the Aggies are staring down consecutive road games at South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn. Kentucky shouldn’t get caught looking ahead with a bye next week before meeting Vanderbilt at Kroger Field.
Prediction: Kentucky 27, Texas A&M 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.