For better or for worse, football is a game where a team can’t wallow in misery. After this past Sunday as an unofficial day of mourning following the heart-rending 28-27 loss to Florida, Kentucky’s football team got back to work on Monday. Hopefully, the Big Blue Nation did the same.
Kentucky has an excellent chance to be 5-1 as the midseason mark. ESPN’s Football Power Index now projects the Wildcats to go 8-4 and post their first winning SEC season in four decades. There’s still plenty to play for, Florida aside. But Kentucky can’t afford an emotional hangover.
Good teams bounce back. They suffer heartbreaking adversity, and they get up off the ground and go back to work, coming back more determined than before. Bad teams wallow in the muck. They sleep-walk through another game or two and find themselves in a hole that makes a successful season difficult or impossible. The guess is that this is a good Kentucky team. But the proving ground, in many ways, will be found on Saturday.
Eastern Michigan is a two-touchdown underdog in Lexington. Kentucky is a superior squad, but games are played on the field, not on paper. The Wildcats have a chance to wash part of the bitter taste of last week out of their mouths, but the Eagles won’t want to make that easy.
Who They Are
Eastern Michigan is 2-1 this year, with wins over Charlotte and Rutgers and a double-overtime loss to Ohio University. The Eagles went to only their second bowl in program history last season with a 7-6 mark. They had gone 7-31 in the preceding four years, but coach Chris Creighton has made EMU a competitive program in the Mid-American Conference.
The Eagles are led by senior QB Brogan Roback. He has passed for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, and has 798 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games of this season. Roback is experienced and has talented weapons like senior WR Sergio Bailey, who caught 60 passes for 868 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and has 17 catches for 267 yards so far this year. The Eagles have struggled on the ground, gaining just 2.8 yards per carry so far this season. Last year, they ended up at 4.3, so a poor running game is noteworthy.
Defensive, EMU has picked off five passes for a +3 turnover margin and has seven QB sacks in three games. No one player has more than 1.5 sacks, and defensive back Brody Hoying leads the team in tackles with 21 and has had two interceptions, one run back for a touchdown.
Kicker Paul Fricano is good, but the punting situation is a mess. The longest punt of the year for EMU is by the quarterback, Roback. Special teams are otherwise not very noteworthy for the Eagles.
Where Kentucky Is
Heartbroken. But maybe they shouldn’t be. Kentucky outplayed Florida in many facets, which is almost as unique as a UK win in the series. Florida gashed Kentucky with some trick plays to amass 5.2 yards per carry on the ground, by far the worst that the Kentucky defense has done on the run. Passing wise, a long trick play pass and two uncovered touchdowns were the Gator offense.
For Kentucky, Siheim King showed ability on the edges, gaining 64 yards on five carries. Benny Snell was Benny Snell, and Lynn Bowden both threw a nice pass (25-yard completion) and carried the ball for an almost-big-play run. When one errant center snap that caused a loss of 18 is takes out of the equation, Kentucky rushed for 4.5 yards per carry. Stephen Johnson was 17 for 25 for 196 yards and three touchdowns in the air. Eight different Wildcats caught passes, and the passing game nearly maneuvered the team into a last second win.
This week figures to be Lynn Bowden’s coming out party. We said that before the EKU game only to see him ejected a few minutes in on a questionable targeting penalty. Consider that EMU has struggled to run or do a great job stopping opposing rushers, Snell and/or King are likely to have big days.
I’ve been fooled before, but I don’t see a hangover.
Kentucky 31, Eastern Michigan 10
Other SEC Predictions
Who else do I like in the SEC on Saturday? Glad you asked…
Alabama 58, Ole Miss 6
Georgia 31, Tennessee 14
Auburn 35, Mississippi State 20
Florida 17, Vanderbilt 16
Texas A&M 34, South Carolina 21
LSU 38, Troy 24
New Mexico State 29, Arkansas 28
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.