Cats Look For More Complete Effort
Pop quiz: what team in college football has the longest current non-conference winning streak? With the win last week against Youngstown State the Kentucky Wildcats have now won 18 straight out of conference games. The last loss came to Northwestern in the 2017 Music City Bowl, a game most in the Big Blue Nation want to forget. Mark Stoops’ club goes for 19 when they host a second Mid-American Conference team on the year Saturday under the lights at 7:00 pm on ESPN2. Let’s look at both teams and give you a prediction with our Northern Illinois versus Kentucky preview.
Cutting Down On Mistakes
When the Cats put the finishing touches on the win over the Penguins it was the first time since November 19, 1977, Kentucky won a game as a top 10 ranked club. That win came over Tennessee 21-17 in the season finale. UK was ineligible for a bowl game due to probation. Despite being undefeated and being ranked eighth in the AP Poll there are some things to work on. Currently, Kentucky ranks 125th out of 131 teams in sacks allowed with 11. In addition, the team ranks 122nd in rushing yards averaging 74 per game. That’s hard to believe after all the success of “The Big Blue Wall” over the last few years. Furthermore, Youngstown State had 10 tackles for a loss which should never happen when playing an FCS school.
Part of it can be attributed to replacing three starters on the offensive line and two returning starters switching positions. The group looked great in the second half against Florida, they just need more consistency. All-SEC running back Chris Rodriguez returns next week after a four-game suspension. He’ll certainly help with another troublesome area, red zone offense. So far in 2022 Kentucky’s made 16 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. However, the Wildcats have only scored eight touchdowns. The remaining trips resulted in five field goals, a missed field goal, and two interceptions.
As we continue our Northern Illinois versus Kentucky preview let’s look at the visitors.
Scouting The Huskies
Thomas Hammock’s club comes into Saturday game sporting a 1-2 record. The Huskies won their opening game over Eastern Illinois 34-27 then lost at Tulsa 38-35. Last week they took a 28-14 lead over Vanderbilt into the third quarter. However, the Commodores ran off 24 unanswered to go on to a 38-28 victory.
The biggest question heading into Saturday is “who is the quarterback.” Rocky Lombardi, a transfer from Michigan State, went down with a leg injury in Saturday’s game. On the season he’s completed 65% of his passes for 530 yards and five touchdowns. In addition, he’s rushed for another score and only has one interception. Following Lombardi’s injury, freshman Ethan Hampton took over and did pretty well. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Hammock says they got better news than expected on Lombardi, though he was non-committal about his availability for Saturday.
Antario Brown is the leading rusher with 203 yards and three touchdowns. Cole Tucker is the leading receiver with 15 catches for 278 yards and five scores. On the other side of the ball, Daveren Rayner leads the Huskies with 32 tackles followed closely by C.J. Brown with 27 and Kyle Pugh with 23. In the case of Pugh, he has an interesting story.
Northern Illinois LB Kyle Pugh is in his 8th season of college football. He was a class of 2015 signee. Same recruiting class when Kentucky signed C.J. Conrad, Logan Stenberg, and Josh Allen.
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) September 21, 2022
Despite Kentucky playing numerous teams from the MAC over the years this will actually be the first-ever meeting between the two schools. All time the Wildcats are 28-5 against the conference with the last loss coming all the way back in 2004. Ohio University came into Lexington and won 28-16 over at UK team that finished 2-9.
The Huskies are 1-12 all-time against the Southeastern Conference. Ironically the lone win was a 19-16 win over Alabama in 2003.
Now that we’ve previewed both teams and given you some history it’s prediction time in our Northern Illinois versus Kentucky preview.
Who Wins On Saturday?
Last week we said the Wildcats should win easily and hopefully, many of the reserves get a chance to play. Due to the turnovers, penalties, and other mistakes it didn’t turn out that way. Saturday night’s game is the final chance to get things right before getting back into conference play at Ole Miss next week.
While we aren’t sure who’s under center for the Huskies, look for whoever it is to test the Wildcat secondary. So far they’ve been up to the challenge as they’ve not given up a touchdown pass in 2022.
Look for this one to stay close for a half before the Wildcats’ strength and depth take over. UK runs its non-conference winning streak to 19 with a win.
Thanks for checking out our Northern Illinois versus Kentucky preview here at Last Word On College Football. We’ll be back after the game with a recap and have the latest bowl projections. Currently, we have the Wildcats playing in a New Year’s Six bowl.