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Preview: Kentucky hosts Arkansas in battle for first SEC win

The Hogs and Cats are still in pursuit of their first conference wins. Luckily, something will have to give for one side.

Kentucky v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the Kentucky Wildcats were about to upset the Florida Gators and keep their momentum from last year’s breakthrough season going. Unfortunately, one missed 35-yard field goal and two non-competitive losses later, the Wildcats hopes for a successful season are hanging by a thread. On the other side of this match-up is an Arkansas team that showed signs of life in their last game vs Texas A&M, after losing in an embarrassing effort against San Jose State. They face off Saturday in a game where the loser will fall to 2-4 on the season and, with the upcoming schedules for both teams, make bowl eligibility an unlikely scenario.

Both teams have struggled to find consistency on offense, very much in part to each teams struggles at the quarterback position. While Kentucky’s Sawyer Smith has struggled after showing some initial promise in relief of the injured Terry Wilson, the Hogs’ Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel have both had their chance to be in command of the offense, with the SMU transfer Hicks starting the year before giving way to Texas A&M transfer Starkel.

Hicks seems to be in line for the start for Arkansas, having taken over for Starkel during the Texas A&M game and throwing for 188 yards and a touchdown during a failed comeback attempt. Hicks will have a pair of steady receivers to work with in Mike Woods(21 rec, 301 yards) and freshman Trey Knox(21, 299) but it is the running game that will need to step up for Arkansas if they want to win their first conference game.

The Wildcats rank 13th in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game, with 171.2, per ESPN. If Rakeem Boyd, who is averaging over 5 yards a carry, can keep Arkansas ahead of the chains on 2nd and 3rd down, Kentucky should be forced to commit enough players to the run that Woods, Knox, and co. should be able to get open.

For Kentucky’s offense, it is very simple, Sawyer Smith just has to be better. Smith’s 54-117 for 665 yards with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions isn’t good enough to beat SEC opposition. While Arkansas’ defense is not as talented as South Carolina, Florida, or Mississippi State, they still have players such as Kamren Curl that will make Smith pay for any mistakes. While Arkansas might be able to take advantage of a weak Kentucky run defense, the Wildcats can boast a strong offensive line that should allow them to move the ball on the ground themselves. If Smith can find a way to get Lynn Bowden and the rest of his skill the players the ball down the field, Kentucky should find success on offense. Based on the last two games, however, that is not a given.

Both teams will come out fighting like their seasons depend on it, because they do. The winner of this game will get a jolt of energy in their chase for bowl eligibility while the loser will see their chances at the post-season slip further way.

Prediction: Arkansas 24 Kentucky 21

How To Watch

Stadium: Kroger Field

Time: 7:30 EST, 6:30 CST

TV: SEC Network

Line: Kentucky -6,5