It’s something of a role reversal Saturday night as Kentucky hosts LSU in Lexington, Ky.
This time, No. 16 Kentucky (5-0, 3-0 SEC) is a ranked team with a highly touted defense coming in off a big win over a Top 10 opponent, and LSU (3-2, 1-1) is trying to sort out inconsistencies that already have its season on the edge.
The Wildcats stayed unbeaten by knocking off then-No. 10 Florida 20-13 last week, marking their Wildcats’ first home victory over the Gators in 35 years, and moving them back into the Top 25.
Coach Mark Stoops acknowledged the win as a big step in continuing to build the program.
“This is the next opportunity,” Stoops said. “That’s what it’s about for us. We want to play in a lot of big games.”
Kentucky is No. 10 in the country in total defense (284.4 yards a game) — No. 24 against the rush and No. 26 against the pass, and tied for 20th in scoring defense (16.8 points a game).
The defense saved the day against Florida, which ran nine plays inside the Wildcats’ 20-yard line in the final minute but couldn’t score, and the fans stormed the field.
“We proved our identity,” said defensive lineman Josh Paschal, who blocked a Florida field goal that Trevin Wallace returned 76 yards for the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter. “We’re a defense that will swarm around the ball and that, no matter what happens, we’re going to bounce back and respond.”
The Wildcats held the Gators to 382 yards, including a season-low 171 rushing. Florida had rushed for 245 in losing to Alabama 31-29.
The Wildcats’ offense, however, showed areas in need of improvement. They converted just one of nine third downs against Florida and held the ball for less than 24 minutes. They gained just 224 yards as Will Levis completed just seven passes in 17 attempts.
“Offensively we will get it going,” Stoops said. “I’m very confident that we’ll continue to get better. We’re going to get there.”
LSU has its own offensive problems, which were painfully clear in last week’s 24-19 loss to Auburn, which climbed to 22nd in this week’s poll. LSU had just 33 yards rushing.
The Tigers rank 128th of the 130 major college football programs in rushing offense (70.6 yards per game).
“We’re trying to run the football, (but) every time we run the football, we get stuffed,” head coach Ed Orgeron said. “We’ve got to find ways to run the football and we’ve got to block.”
Orgeron said that going into the season he thought the offensive line “would’ve been one of the strengths of our football team, but it’s not.”
LSU is just two seasons removed from a national championship but went 5-5 last season, and another slow start has critics questioning Orgeron.
Moreover, Auburn was the first of six straight ranked opponents whom the Tigers will face.
Kentucky and LSU have not met since 2014 but consider that it’s just the second time since 1985 that the Wildcats have been ranked facing LSU, while the Tigers have been ranked for seven of the past 11 meetings.
–Field Level Media