Preview of the Kentucky Wildcats vs. Northern Illinois football game

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Preview: No. 8 Kentucky vs. Northern Illinois

Click below for more preview coverage from The Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com ahead of Saturday’s Kentucky-Northern Illinois football game scheduled for 7 p.m. at Kroger Field in Lexington.


No. 8 Kentucky vs. Northern Illinois

When: 7 p.m., Saturday (24 Sept.).

TV: ESPN2

Advertisers: Play-by-play, Anish Shroff; analysis, Brock Osweiler; on the sidelines, Alex Chappell

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1.

satellite radio: XM Channel 203, Sirius Channel 121, Internet Channel 966.

Folders: Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 SEC); Northern Illinois (1-2, 0-0 MAC).

Series history: First meeting.

Line: Kentucky is favored by 24.5 points

The story line

With a massive SEC contest in Mississippi looming, the Kentucky No. 8 will be looking to avoid a “trap game” against the team chosen in the preseason to win the Mid-American Conference championship.

The number to watch

The Kentucky Race Yards. A program whose attacking identity has long been a punitive ground attack, the United Kingdom – playing without star ball carrier Christopher Rodriguez for the first four games due to suspension – struggled to run the ball so far in 2022. Out of 131 FBS teams, Kentucky ranks 122nd in rushing yards per game, averaging just 74.3. Against an NIU defense that has struggled so far, can the Wildcats get their running game started?

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Senior running back Kavosiey Smoke (0) leads Kentucky in rushing with 178 yards and a touchdown. Silas Walker [email protected]

The big threat

Cole Tucker. A 6-foot-2, 195-pound homegrown product from DeKalb, Illinois, the redshirted NIU senior wideout has 15 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns. Whether Michigan State trades Rocky Lombardi, the regular starter who left Saturday’s 38-28 loss to Vanderbilt with an injury, or backup Ethan Hampton plays quarterback, Tucker should be a test for a defense against the British pass which ranks 12th in the FBS (getting just 152 yards per game).

Cole Tucker.jpg
A redshirt senior from DeKalb, Illinois, Cole Tucker leads the Huskies with 15 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns. In Saturday’s 38-28 loss to Vanderbilt, Tucker caught 1-yard and 70-yard touchdown passes. Northern Illinois Varsity Athletics

On the spot

The Kentucky Offensive Line. The “New Big Blue Wall” continues to be an ongoing reconstruction project. Due to injuries, the UK has yet to field the same five offensive linemen in any game. With only two returning starters from 2021 and neither player playing in the same position as last year, Kentucky has struggled so far. The Cats gave up 10 tackles against Youngstown State in last week’s 31-0 win. British quarterback Will Levis has already been sacked 11 times this season. As the heart of the SEC schedule approaches, Mark Stoops and Co. need to bolster the Wildcats’ offensive front.

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Kentucky center Eli Cox (75) started at right guard for the Wildcats last season. Michel Clubb PA

mood

Is waiting. Kentucky’s rise to No. 8 in the AP Top 25, its road win in Florida and its 3-0 start have the Big Blue Nation dreaming of a double-digit year. For the UK, not neglecting NIU is an important step towards extending the dream of a ‘special season’.

This story was originally published September 19, 2022 10:43 a.m.

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since August 27, 1990 and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I’ve covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every basketball game UK-U of L match but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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