Week 4 has arrived, and Kentucky will get its final dose of MACtion for the 2022 season on Saturday. The Cats will put their No. 8 national ranking on the line against a Northern Illinois team that could be playing without its starting quarterback.
The home team is a 27-point favorite for a reason as no Rocky Lombardi would be a big loss for an NIU team that has one of the worst passing defenses in the FBS. Kentucky will look to avoid the classic trap spot with a ranked-on-ranked matchup looming next week when UK travels to Oxford to play Ole Miss on the road for the first time since 2010.
On Saturday night, KSR’s eyes will be on that passing game along with a new roster addition who could be getting his first start at Kentucky.
Will Levis could have a banner night
We usually try to stick with some under the radar players when diving into personnel matchups, but it is impossible to avoid Kentucky’s QB1 this week.
Will Levis has thrown for 350-plus yards four times in his Kentucky career with the last one coming last week against Youngstown State. Facing an NIU defense than ranks No. 124 in passing success rate (54.2%) and No. 121 in yards per attempt (9.0), UK’s best player should have a very big game on Saturday night.
Levis’ career-high (419 yards) was set last season against New Mexico State in Kentucky’s final buy game. The star quarterback has a great chance to set a new record on Saturday. The Wildcats seem determined to improve the running game this week, but it will be impossible for offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello to avoid the obvious mismatch in the passing game.
Look for Levis to attempt to clean up some of the mistakes made last week and give Kentucky another big performance in the throw game.
Opportunity arises for Zion Childress
Kentucky’s depth at safety is being tested. After losing Vito Tisdale to injury in the spring and Joel Williams to transfer (Memphis) during fall camp, the defense got some more bad news over the last two weeks. Starting free safety Jalen Geiger was seemingly lost for the season against Florida and KSR has learned that starting strong safety Tyrell Ajian could miss some time due to an injury suffered against Youngstown State.
That has created a window of opportunity for Texas State transfer Zion Childress.
The multi-positional player in the Sun Belt was an add to the Kentucky roster in May after starting 14 games and recording 10 passed defended (interceptions or pass breakups) during his two years at the Group of Five level. Through three weeks, Childress has played 32 snaps for Kentucky, but that could be changing soon.
Seeing how the transfer meshes and plays with redshirt freshman Jordan Lovett will be important on Saturday night. Regardless of Ajian’s status, Kentucky is going to need some big snaps from the junior safety moving forward. Zion Childress will have a great opportunity against Northern Illinois.
Jordan Dingle is still looking for his breakthrough game
Throughout fall camp, redshirt freshman tight end Jordan Dingle was one of the biggest developments. The Bowling Green (Ky.) High product was a top-500 recruit in the class of 2021 who emerged as Kentucky’s top tight end during the offseason due to his two-way ability.
Despite leading the tight end room in targets (7), we have yet to see a big game from the second year player. Facing a bad passing defense on Saturday could be the ticket to a big game from Dingle.
We’ve already seen Kentucky go to the athletic tight end in the screen game, and there was some positivity about the value Dingle could bring as a blocker. After a big first half from the tight end position at Florida, things have gotten quiet.
Jordan Dingle brings some pro tools to the offense, and it feels like a matter of time before the young player has a big game as a pass catcher. Let’s see if the versatile player sees an increase in targets against Northern Illinois.