If No. 7 Kentucky football is to win at No. 14 Ole Miss on Saturday, it will probably have to do so without one of its top defenders.
Junior outside linebacker J.J. Weaver is set to miss his second consecutive game with a left arm injury. Weaver was absent from Kentucky’s pre-Ole Miss depth chart released Monday. Super senior Jordan Wright was listed as the starter at outside linebacker and freshman Alex Afari the starter at strongside linebacker. Freshman Keaten Wade was listed as the backup at both positions.
“Doesn’t look good for J.J. this week,” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said Monday.
Weaver started each of the first three games for Kentucky but was injured on the first defensive drive of the Wildcats’ week-three win over Youngstown State.
Kentucky has not revealed specifics of the injury, but Weaver had his left arm in a sling while watching Kentucky’s win over Northern Illinois from the sideline. Stoops has described his status as “week to week.”
Through three games, Weaver has tallied 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He’s also blocked a punt.
Weaver’s return could be particularly important as he is considered the most dangerous pass rusher on a UK defense that ranks 97th nationally in sacks (six) and 124th in tackles for loss (13).
Ole Miss has surrendered just two sacks on the season, tied for sixth fewest in the country.
The Rebels rank 106th in passing attempts (104) but rank fourth in rushing yards per game (280.8). Stoops expects Ole Miss to unveil passing wrinkles they have yet to put on film that are largely built off the success in the run game thus far.
“That’s where we have to be much better, much more disciplined, much more locked in our assignments because there’s a lot going on,” Stoops said.
CHRIS RODRIGUEZ BACK ON THE DEPTH CHART
Kentucky is set to receive at least one high profile reinforcement for the trip to Ole Miss.
Senior running back Chris Rodriguez was back on the depth chart Monday after serving his four-game suspension. UK previously announced Rodriguez would return to the field for the Ole Miss game but officially listed him on the depth chart for the first time. UK listed the starting running back as senior Kavosiey Smoke or Rodriguez.
“He just needs to be himself,” Stoops said of Rodriguez on Monday. “He doesn’t need to come in and be our savior or anything like that, save our run game or any of that. We don’t need him to worry about that. We just need him to be him and we need the other guys around him … to do their job.”
Rodriguez is the SEC’s top returning rusher after totaling 1,379 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He enters the season sixth on UK’s career rushing yards list (2,740). Rodriguez needs 1,134 yards to break Benny Snell’s career rushing record.
The Herald-Leader reported earlier this month UK launched an investigation in February into members of the Wildcats football team filing inaccurate timecards for jobs worked at the university hospital, according to documents obtained through the state’s open records law.
That investigation determined multiple members of the team listed hours worked that they were not present at the hospital for when video surveillance showed them leaving the facility or there was a conflict with class or game schedules. Players, whose names were redacted from a letter sent to the NCAA and provided to the Herald-Leader, were declared ineligible.
Outside linebacker Jordan Wright missed the opener but returned to action for the second game at Florida. Rodriguez was suspended for the first four games.
Asked for the cause of Rodriguez’s suspension, Stoops has declined to comment, citing student privacy laws. UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart did confirm to the Herald-Leader there had been an investigation into Rodriguez’s eligibility.
UK listed junior JuTahn McClain as its third running back. McClain returned from a two-game injury absence against Northern Illinois. He replaced redshirt freshman La’Vell Wright, who was injured in the second half against Northern Illinois, on the depth chart.
No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Mississippi
When: Noon Saturday
Records: UK 4-0 (1-0 SEC), Mississippi 4-0 (0-0)