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Kentucky vs. Northern Illinois preview, viewing info and score projection

The Wildcats look to improve to 4-0 when the Huskies.

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Mark Stoops Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

For most Kentucky Wildcats fans, it’s hard not to look ahead to the blockbuster matchup with a ranked Ole Miss team in Oxford coming up on October 1st.

But for that game to mean something UK will have to take care of business and beat Northern Illinois on Saturday.

After last week’s noon kickoff, football will be played under the lights at Kroger Field on this weekend.

The Kentucky Wildcats will face the Huskies of Northern Illinois on ESPN2 at 7:00 pm.

Some fans argued this week that an earlier game time is more desirable when playing a lower tier opponent but there’s no debating the fact that playing on ESPN2 will provide more exposure for the players and program than the typical SEC Network slot.

Despite being ranked as a top 10 team in the country, it’s fair to say that Kentucky isn’t perceived that way by the average college football fan.

Covering the 26.5 point spread and looking good doing it would be ideal for Mark Stoops’ team ahead of their trip to Ole Miss, which is sure to get much more media coverage.

UK’s goal on Saturday should be to stay healthy and ideally show improvement in key areas that have been a cause for concern through 12 quarters of live competition.

All eyes will be on the ever shifting offensive line and if tangible progress can be seen in their execution.

Northern Illinois will arrive in Lexington with a record of 1-2, but the Huskies are battle-tested after facing an SEC foe in Vanderbilt last week.

Some good news for Will Levis and the offensive unit is that their opponent has given up at least 27 points in their first three games of the season.

NIU fell to the Commodores 38-28 last week but were absolutely in a position to steal a victory against a Power 5 school until starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi left the game with an injury.

Obviously, Kentucky is still ahead of Vandy, but there’s something to to be said about the fact that the Northern Illinois players likely won’t show any form of intimidation inside Kroger Field considering it will be their second game is as many weeks lined up against SEC talent.

More favorable news is that NIU has only recorded five total sacks defensively on top of giving up over 950 yards of total offensive in their last two games. This should be a perfect opportunity for the offensive line, running backs and the wide receiving core to execute at a high level for an extended period.

All that being said, the story of this game could very well come down to the status of Rocky Lombardi, who suffered an injury against Vanderbilt.

The Huskies were tied 14-14 with Dores before Lombardi was forced to leave the game. Prior to that injury the Michigan State transfer has tossed for 530 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception.

His backup, redshirt freshman Ethan Hampton, took over after Lombardi went down and did an okay job, throwing for two scores and one pick.

It’ll be a big ask for a freshman QB to step in and take the field on the road against a stout defensive unit like Kentucky.

Throwing a touchdown pass against Kentucky has proven to be about as hard of a task as it gets — so assuming Lombardi is out — I’m predicting at least one defensive score for Brad White’s group.

NIU’s ground game has been dominated by two sophomore backs this season. Antario Brown has efficiently rushed 41 times for 203 yards and three scores. Bolstering the rest of the workload is Harrison Waylee who’s accumulated 152 yards and a score on 36 carries.

If there’s a freshman under center you’d after to anticipate NIU’s game plan heavily revolving around getting the run game going.

UK’s defense has been completely lights out, so it’s hard to imagine the Cats not rolling on Saturday and winning by at least three scores.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

Time: 7 pm ET on September 24th, 2022

Location: Kroger Field in Lexington, KY

TV Channel: ESPN2

Online Stream: WatchESPN, ESPN+, the ESPN app, or you can use a free trial of fubo.tv.

Radio: Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro have the UK radio network call on 630AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and the UK Sports Network.

Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings for replay schedule).

Weather: Sunshine and clouds mixed. High of 74F. Winds SSW at 10-15 mph with a 23% chance of rain, per Weather.com.

Rosters: UK | NIU

Stats to Know: UK | NIU

Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Kentucky as a 26.5-point favorite. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Cats a 96.4% chance at victory.

Score Projection: TeamRankings is projecting a 41-13 victory, Kentucky!

Game Notes