Following a three-game losing streak, last week's open date couldn't have come at a better time for Kentucky.

The Wildcats (2-3, 0-3 in Southeastern Conference) had dropped consecutive league matchups to then-No. 9 Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina.

Their defense, which was a point of confidence early in the season, hadn't exactly been inspiring.

And quarterback Sawyer Smith -- who began the year at No. 2 on the depth chart -- wasn't the same after hurting his wrist against the Gators three weeks ago. He's also been dealing with an injured throwing shoulder after taking a hit against Mississippi State.

In the last two games, Smith completed just 26-of-73 passes for 323 yards and two interceptions.

According to UK head coach Mark Stoops, the graduate transfer from Troy didn't even throw during UK's open week.

"He took a solid week off, and he needed that," Stoops said Monday. "And the word I got from our trainer was that he feels significantly better."

So, if you're a UK fan, that's both good news and bad news.

The good news is your starting quarterback got plenty of rest after a shoulder injury that very clearly limited his throwing ability.

The bad news is that he needed the rest to begin with.

Stoops is confident that Smith will play Saturday and be effective. Smith, no doubt, feels the same way.

After all, two weeks ago, Smith said he was "fine" before UK was dismantled in its visit to South Carolina.

Playing with an injured quarterback hasn't helped Kentucky's cause in recent weeks, but the problem for Stoops & Co. is that there really aren't any other viable options.

Walker Wood remains second on the depth chart, and the Cats haven't been afraid to put talented wide receiver Lynn Bowden in charge of the offense, either. The issue with using Bowden on a regular basis, however, is that when you spend an entire offseason focused on Terry Wilson's improvement and building the offense around throwing the ball, it's difficult to switch gears midway through the season for a running-based signal-caller.

Bowden may have played quarterback in the past and thrown a few passes on trick plays, but he's not a full-time passer.

"Well, any great player wants the game to go through him and the ball to go through him," Stoops said of Bowden, who's been outspoken on his desire to man the offense, "so what better way than quarterback? You touch it every snap."

Unfortunately for Bowden, though, a potential move to quarterback doesn't quite move the needle for his team. It may work for a few plays or even a couple of quarters, but eventually, defenses will catch on.

So, if any part of Smith's injury is still lingering, that leaves the Cats in an almost unsolvable situation.

And this certainly isn't the week to try new experiments, either.

With Arkansas set to visit Kroger Field, the Cats have a chance to stop their recent skid. The Razorbacks enter Saturday at 2-3 and on a two-game losing streak of their own, despite playing Texas A&M to a 31-27 result in their last outing Sept. 28.

UK remains four wins away from becoming bowl eligible and, based on the schedule ahead, there isn't an abundance of opportunities ahead for Kentucky.

See Russell/Page B3

"This game is important," Stoops said. "I think just common sense -- the way we haven't played very good and the way we have had some losses -- yeah, it's important to me. It's the next game, it's at home, it's a conference game, so it's important.

"Our team is going to be hungry to play this game. It's been a tough stretch, but this (open week) gave us an opportunity to hit the reset button, kind of reload and get ready for this next phase of the season."

For the Cats' sake, Stoops better hope the week off leads to an improved performance, for both Smith and his entire team, moving forward.

Because right now, there aren't any other options.

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