After a draining 24-17 season-opening win on the road at Southern Mississippi last weekend, the Kentucky Wildcats can be forgiven if they’re looking forward to their home opener this Saturday (Noon, SEC Network) against FCS foe Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels played Kentucky to the wire in 2015, but aren’t expected to do the same this time around, as Kentucky readies itself to begin SEC play the following week at South Carolina. Kentucky will be looking to work out the timing in its offense, and continue to emphasize a physical defense that throttled Southern Miss’s ground game last time out. But EKU would like nothing more than to be a spoiler.
What to Know about EKU
Last week, Eastern lost the renewal of its long-time rivalry with fellow state foe Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers won that game, 31-17, but the game was very competitive. WKU outgained EKU by just a 364-345 margin, despite Western featuring one of the nation’s most prolific offenses in the past two seasons.
Eastern was led in that game by QB Tim Boyle, who was 29 for 46 for 320 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air. Those receptions were grabbed by wideout Ryan Markush, who had seven catches for 107 yards. On the ground, EKU stumbled badly, gaining just 1.1 yards per carry. But on the defensive side of the ball, they held WKU to 2.5 yards per rushing attempt. Eastern brought defensive pressure at WKU frequently, sacking Western four times in the game—a look the Colonels will doubtlessly look to repeat this Saturday.
What This Game Means for UK
For Kentucky, the EKU game will be a chance to improve on a meager 2.2 yards per carry last time out. Sophomore RB Benny Snell had just 67 yards in week one, off of his 1,091 yards, 13 touchdown season in 2016. Kentucky will certainly look to establish Snell, as well as junior RB Sihiem King and freshman A.J. Rose.
Kentucky’s much-hyped freshman receivers did little in the season opener, as Lynn Bowden didn’t see the ball, and Clevan Thomas and Isaiah Epps each caught one short pass. QB Stephen Johnson (pictured) will doubtlessly be working on his passing chemistry with his talented young targets, particularly Bowden, who caused some minor panic waves with his Twitter postings after seeing little time in game one.
Defensively, Denzil Ware will look to continue showing the form which had him named SEC Defensive Lineman on the Week after a sack and a scoop and score touchdown last week. Kentucky’s secondary will look to clamp down in the second half, after allowing over 200 passing yards after the intermission last week.
Kentucky simply cannot struggle as extensively as it did last week. The good news is that some home cooking and a week of experience should help things along. Look for Snell and perhaps another Wildcats (Rose is a good guess) to rush for over 100 yards, and some of the young receivers to shine.
UK 42, EKU 14.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books. His most recent, Almost Perfect (a study of baseball pitchers’ near-miss attempts at perfect games) is available on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught