The Kentucky Wildcats enter Week 4 with a perfect 3-0 record, winning each game by double-digits, and have now moved up another spot in this week’s AP college football poll as the 8th-ranked Wildcats will host Northern Illinois on Saturday night at Kroger Field.
So, why has head coach Mark Stoops and his staff been fighting mad this week in preparation for the team’s final tuneup before heading into the heart of SEC play?
In his weekly press conference, Stoops says there’s plenty to clean up, most notably better blocking, reducing turnovers, and more consistency for an offense that has sputtered at times early in the season.
“Offensively, there’s some things we’ve got to get ironed out. It just felt like it was a person here, a person there, just undisciplined play. And, you know, anytime you have 10 penalties, three turnovers, four fumbles, and you do that at home...it just shows you that attention to detail was not there,” Stoops said earlier in the week.
The good news is that Brad White’s defense has been lights out over the first three games, playing its best game of the year in a 31-0 shutout over Youngstown State, the first since 2009.
Kentucky’s pass defense is ranked first in the SEC as the Wildcats have yet to give up a touchdown pass while holding opposing quarterbacks to under 50 percent completion rates. The Cats have also hauled in three interceptions with picks coming from Jordan Wright, Carrington Valentine, and Keidron Smith.
The secondary will be put to the test again this week as Northern Illinois has two solid quarterbacks on its roster in Rocky Lombardi, a Michigan State transfer, and freshman Eric Hampton. Lombardi, a senior, has thrown for 530 yards and five touchdowns this season and is listed as day-to-day after leaving last week’s game with a leg injury. Hampton went 12-for-19 for 124 yards and two touchdowns in relief last week to give the Huskies a fighting chance before falling to Vanderbilt 38-28.
Look for quarterback Will Levis and the Kentucky offense to tighten things up this week with a big SEC road game up next at No. 16th-ranked Ole Miss, which will also mark the return of star running back Chris Rodriguez from a four-game suspension.
Other big games this week include conference battles between Florida and Georgia in the East and Arkansas traveling to play Texas A&M in the SEC West. All four teams are ranked in the top 20 and a win moves each team one step closer to a division title.
Adam Haste and James Streble are the early leaders in our Big Blue Pick ‘Em competition, but at least half the field will pick up a game this week as our Sea of Blue staff is split right down the middle on the Arkansas-Texas A&M game. (See our full picks below).
Game of the Week - (20) Florida at (11) Tennessee
Brace yourself for a legendary rivalry game this week when Florida travels to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville to take on the 11th-ranked Tennessee Vols.
On paper, Florida has dominated the series and is on a five-game winning streak, taking 16 of the last 17 meetings, including a 38-14 win last year in Gainesville. But the tables have turned this season as the Vols have an explosive offense that averages 553.7 yards per game under head coach Josh Heupel and are a 10.5-point favorite on Saturday.
Among FBS schools, Tennessee leads the the nation in touchdowns (21) and ranks 4th in Points Per Game (52.0) and Yards Per Attempt (10.9). Quarterback Hendon Hooker leads an uptempo offense that is currently running a play every 20.5 seconds.
After a Week 1 upset over Utah, the Gators have fallen on hard times, especially on the offensive side as quarterback Anthony Richardson has one of the worst stat lines among SEC quarterbacks. With a 2-1 record, Florida is one of just three FBS teams that has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season as Richardson has thrown for 423 yards with four interceptions. This could be payback time for the Vols so get ready for some fireworks.
Upset Special - (10) Arkansas at (23) Texas A&M
Despite Arkansas’s Top 10 ranking, this week’s neutral-field game against Texas A&M has oddsmakers baffled as the Aggies are a 2.5-point favorite headed into Saturday’s 7:00 pm kickoff at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
So why are the 10th-ranked Razorbacks getting such little respect? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that Arkansas struggled last week before scoring 21 4th quarter points in a 38-27 come-from-behind win over Missouri State at home in the return of former coach Bobby Petrino.
Texas A&M has struggled offensively and ranks last in the SEC in total yards, points per game, and is next to last in passing yards. On the other hand, Arkansas has been brutal in defending the pass this season so this one is shaping up to a barn burner in Texas.
It’s hard to call this one an “upset special” but a Texas A&M win might help Aggie fans forget a recent loss to Appalachian State and make things interesting in the SEC West.
Things to Know for Week 4
Top Dogs: The early season buzz around the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs has reached new heights as national pundits have already declared coach Kirby Smart’s team as one of the best teams in college football history. The defending national champions once again have an elite defense and have allowed seven or fewer points in each of their first three games, a feat that has not been accomplished since 1954. This season, the Bulldogs have allowed just ten points all season - one touchdown and a field goal.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it’s the greatest collection of talent that’s ever been assembled on a football team because of the work coach (Kirby) Smart and his staff and the tireless, relentless effort they put into building the program to an elite, elite level, right?” said Kent State coach Sean Lewis who will face the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Progress Report: Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea made headlines this year at SEC Media Day when he said: “We know in time Vanderbilt football will be the best program in the country.” A bold statement for a second-year head coach, especially when you consider that the Commodores have been the doormat of the SEC since Jay Cutler was the quarterback back in 2005. However, Vandy is off to a 3-1 start, and will get to measure its progress and Lea’s long-term goals against one of the best ever in Nick Saban and Alabama on Saturday.
Hot Seat: After laying an egg last week against Penn State, Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin is back on the hot seat as the Missouri Tigers come to town on the heels of an embarrassing 41-12 loss to the Nittany Lions. It just so happens that he’ll be taking on his friend, Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz, who is also feeling some pressure after a Week 2 loss to Kansas State. For Auburn, this might be its last chance to find a win for a while as the next four games are against LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Arkansas. Both coaches could really use a win this week as each program is trying to rebuild, all while playing in the nation’s best conference.
SEC Football TV Schedule Week 4
- Kent State at (1) Georgia (12:00 pm on SEC Network+ | ESPN+)
- Missouri at Auburn (12:00 pm on ESPN)
- Bowling Green at Mississippi State (12:00 pm on SEC Network)
- (20) Florida at (11) Tennessee (3:30 pm on CBS)
- Tulsa at (16) Ole Miss (4:00 pm on SEC Network)
- Northern Illinois at (8) Kentucky (7:00 pm on ESPN 2)
- (10) Arkansas at (23) Texas A&M (7:00 pm on ESPN)
- Vanderbilt at (2) Alabama (7:30 pm on SEC Network)
- New Mexico at LSU (7:30 pm on SEC Network+ | ESPN+)
- Charlotte at South Carolina (7:30 pm on ESPNU)