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.).
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?
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).
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.
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.