It's been an incredibly tough and frustrating season for the Kentucky Wildcats football team, but the Cats get a break in the schedule as the New Mexico State Aggies roll their way into Lexington to act as a sacrificial lamb.
The Aggies, of the Sun Belt Conference, come into this game with a bit of momentum, thanks to a thrilling 32-31 win over the rival New Mexico Lobos. This snapped a four-game losing streak to the Lobos and provide hope that head coach Doug Martin's rebuilding project was finally near complete. This was just the eighth win for the Aggies in the last four seasons and will have them ready for the Wildcats.
Granted, this should still be an easy win for Kentucky, but after the way this season has gone, you can not really mark anything as a surefire win. Do the Aggies have enough to upset the Wildcats? It's doubtful, but that is why they play the games.
With that said, let's meet the Aggies.
To date, the Aggies' best offensive threat has not seen the field this season. Junior Larry Rose is the best running back you have never heard of as he flirted with a 2,000-yard season. Rose had 1,651 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground and 283 yards through receptions. He had 16 total touchdowns and has broken an 80-yard TD run each of his two seasons. He averaged a whopping 6.9 yards per carry last year and even an impressive 5.3 against Florida. Rose is still recovering from a surgery to correct a minor sports hernia and he should play against the Cats.
I would not call Tyler Rogers a dual-threat quarterback, but he is a QB that runs well with the ball. Regardless, the sight of any quarterback that can run the football is going to bring back nightmares of Lamar Jackson and make Kentucky fans nervous. Rogers is not a great passer and has completed just 50% of his passes for 411 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. For his career, he has 28 touchdowns to 26 interceptions, so he is interception prone. Rogers is the leading rusher for the Aggies with 84 yards on 24 carries through two games.
If Rose can not go, senior Xavier Hall and freshman Jason Huntley will split carries. Hall has 17 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown while Huntley has 13 carries for 54 yards. Both are small backs at 5'9 and under so they could have a long day if Rose is not able to play.
Sophomore Royce Caldwell has emerged as Roger's favorite target and is averaging an impressive 22.8 yards on his five catches. 6'6 Junior Jaleel Scott has seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown while OJ Clark has 10 catches for 54 yards. Clark and Caldwell are just 5'7 and 5'8.
The biggest name on the Aztec defense is not on the field but in the coaching box. Former Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani is the defensive coordinator, and he inherits a squad that has a lot of question marks.
The biggest weakness is up front on the line, where the Aggies are undersized and gives up a lot of size to the Wildcats offensive line. Jassavia Reese has seven tackles, and Kourtland Busby has 5. Redshirt freshman Cedric Wilcots has 4 and these are the leaders of the line, and they are all in the 6'4, 250 range. It is concerning that the defensive line has just one sack through two games thus far.
The strength of the defense is in the linebacking corps with Rodney Butler and Terrill Hanks. Butler has an eye-opening 39 tackles through two games and Hanks is second on the team with 26. These two have more than half of the teams tackle for losses. Dalton Herrington is coming off of a 12 tackle game versus New Mexico.
The front seven has been pretty dreadful against the run as they are giving up an average of 255 yards a game and 5.4 yards a carry. Being a Spaziani defense, it will improve, but they have their work cut out for them against the Kentucky offense.
The defensive secondary has actually played pretty well, but part of that reason is that it has been so easy to run on them. Jacob Nwangua is a very active defender and has 15 tackles. Shamod Lomax has 10 tackles while Jaden Wright and DeMarcus Owens do a god job of getting to the ball and breaking up passes. This unit gives up just 172 yards per game but with that, also 12.74 yards per reception. In short, you can pass on them, but teams have stuck to the ground with 94 rushing attempts versus just 51 passes attempted.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Let's cut to the chase here. Kentucky is not going to lose to New Mexico State. If they do, the entire staff should resign en masse and stop bilking the university of the millions of dollars that is due them. That said, if Kentucky comes out flat or just overlooks this team, they can be beaten. I seriously expect that the crowd of 30,000 fans at Commonwealth Stadium will see the most complete game of the season.
Kentucky has a clear advantage on both lines here and should wear the battle of the trenches easily. Look for the running game to finally get untracked and for the run to set up the pass. IF UTEP and New Mexico are about to gouge this run defense, Kentucky could out up over 300 yards on the ground.
Look for Rose to have a pretty decent day if he plays and he will break a few runs that bring the groans from the Commonwealth fans, but Kentucky should be able to dominate the Aggies defensively. Look for the defensive line to finally have a good day and for Kentucky to harass Rogers most of the day.
This is a win that Kentucky has bought, and they should get the win relatively easy. With the W in the left hand of the column, this will provide a life to this team's damaged psyche and hopefully put them in the right frame of mind for South Carolina next week.
Anything less than an easy win is a serious cause for concern. The Aggies may hang around a little bit, but in the end,look for a 41-14 Kentucky win.
If not, be worried, Be very worried.