No. 17 Kentucky hopes offense comes alive vs. Middle Tennessee

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Terry Wilson (3) drops back to pass the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Neyland Stadium.Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Xchange

No panic mode for Kentucky. Despite struggling on offense in losses to Georgia and Tennessee the last two weeks, coach Mark Stoops plans no major changes for the No. 17 Wildcats as they host Middle Tennessee State Saturday in their final home game of 2018.

Kickoff at Kroger Field in Lexington is noon ET on the SEC Network.

“That wouldn’t be a very good idea,” Stoops said when asked if it is time to re-think his entire offensive scheme. “We got two opportunities to get the most victories we’ve had in a regular season since 1977. I don’t think that’d be very wise.

“We did a lot of good things to win seven games, and we plan on trying to get to eight and nine. I appreciate all the good things that they did to put us in that position. That would be called panic mode.”

The Wildcats (7-3) managed only 262 yards in total offense in the loss to the Volunteers after rushing and passing for 310 against Georgia the week before. They have failed to reach the 300-yard mark in three of their last five games after getting to at least that mark in each of their first five games.

Not coincidentally running back Benny Snell Jr. has reached the 100-yard mark rushing only once in his last six games. He was in triple digits in three of his first four games with a season-high 175 in the win over Florida.

It could be that opponents have caught up with the junior, who is threatening to become Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher. He needs to average 108 yards over Kentucky’s next three games (two regular season plus the bowl) to pass Sonny Collins’ record of 3,835 yards.

“They’ve been defending it differently,” Snell said. “They’ve been loading the box from now to the beginning of the year. That really shouldn’t matter to me.”

Stoops said a “lot of things” go into the issue.

“Part of our recipe to win a bunch of games is we have to make long drives,” Stoops said. “In our victories throughout the season, we’ve had 12-, 13-play drives because we’re not overly explosive.

“But, you have to be very good and you have to be very precise, and you can’t have a missed assignment here, a missed assignment there.”

Middle Tennessee could present an opportunity for the Wildcats to get their running game together. The Blue Raiders (7-3) have allowed opponents to rush for an average of 165 yards a game, but have won their last four games, the last a 49-32 race against UTEP.

“They’re creating big plays and they’re getting ahead and scoring some points,” Stoops said, “and then they are throwing the ball and certainly that was the case this past week with UTEP. They jumped out on a big lead on them and then they’re throwing it and creating big plays. Their defense has been very good at forcing turnovers.”

Quarterback Brent Stockstill, son of coach Rick Stockstill, leads the Raiders offense and has passed for 857 yards his last three games.

“He’s one of those guys he’s a real gamer,” Stoops said. “You can put pressure on him, you can get him out of the pocket, and he finds guys open. He puts it in good spots, he throws a catchable ball. You got to have a lot of respect for the way he plays.”

Kentucky has finished its conference schedule, finishing 5-3 in the SEC East, but the Raiders are 6-1 in Conference USA play and have a key league game coming up the following week against UAB. Stockstill (the coach) says he won’t pull any punches by pulling players against Kentucky.

“We are going to try to win this game,” he said, “and worry about next week next week.”

This will be the third SEC opponent for the Blue Raiders, who lost to Vanderbilt 35-7 and Georgia 49-7 in early September.

“We are looking forward to it,” coach Stockstill said. “We know the challenge that lies ahead, but we are excited about it.”