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An Early Look At Kentucky Football’s 2021 Non-Conference Schedule

We took a look at Kentucky’s SEC schedule on Monday. Today, we’ll take a sneak peek at the Wildcats’ non-conference slate. From an opening day matchup against Terry Bowden’s Louisiana Monroe Warhawks to the Governor’s Cup matchup at Louisville, UK’s successful run on non-SEC opponents should continue in 2021.

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Louisiana Monroe (September 4) 

Terry Bowden takes over the helm of the Warhawk football program that significantly struggled a year ago. ULM posted an 0-10 record including being outscored 118-35 in its final two games of the season against Louisiana and Arkansas State. Bowden remarkably hired former Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez to be his offensive coordinator. Rodriguez’s son Rhett is an incoming transfer that may secure the starting quarterback role in fall camp.

2020 was not kind to the Warhawks. In addition to a winless season, Louisiana Monroe averaged a mere 16 points and 305 total yards per game. It allowed 42 points and well over 400 yards per contest last season. A rebuild will take time. This a situation is not unfamiliar to Bowden. ULM returns four starting offensive linemen to build around while the transfer portal is used to secure playmakers.

Louisiana Monroe is a perfect week-one matchup for UK. The BBN will get its first look at Liam Coen’s offense and the defense will sport six new starters in a tune up game leading up to Missouri coming to town; however, don’t look for the Cats to show much on September 4.

Chattanooga (September 18)

UK welcomes an FCS team to Kroger Field following its pivotal matchup against Missouri. Rusty Wright’s Chattanooga Mocs finished an abbreviated 2020/21 schedule with a 3-2 record. It played a close game at Western Kentucky on October 24. WKU prevailed in a 13-10 win in Bowling Green.

UTC did register quality wins a year ago. The Mocs beat both Wofford and Furman. Sandwiched between two conference opponents, the Wildcats should be able to learn from the Missouri game and prepare for its first SEC road show in Columbia against the FCS foe.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

New Mexico State (November 20)

New Mexico State will make a return trip to Kroger Field. Charles Walker returned a punt for a touchdown the last time the Aggies graced Kroger Field. Head coach Doug Martin is a former Kentucky coach and player. NMSU went 1-1 in an odd spring schedule. It finished 2019 with a 2-10 mark. UK ends its 2021 regular season with a pair of out of conference opponents in NMSU and Louisville. Following a challenging SEC slate, the Aggies could be a welcome addition on November 20.

As expected, the transfer portal has been active in Las Cruces. While the outcome is a predicted Kentucky win, a fluid Aggie depth chart limits projections for this matchup. More to come as we close in on November 20.

At Louisville (November 27)

Kentucky has outscored Louisville 101 to 23 in the two most recently played Governor’s Cup matchups. The rivalry game was canceled in 2020 due to the SEC playing a conference-only regular season schedule.

Unlike the case in most rivalry games, Mark Stoops mercifully took his foot off the gas in both matchups that could have gotten a great deal worse on the scoreboard. Receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden rushed for 284 yards and scored four touchdowns the last time these two teams squared off. Kentucky attempted just two passes in a game that it rushed for 517 yards in 2019.

Scott Satterfield has compiled a 12-13 record during his stay in the Derby City. 2021 is a pivotal year for the Cardinal head coach. Quarterback Malik Cunningham returns to lead an offense that averaged 29.5 points and 444 total yards per game in 2020; however, turnovers proved to be too much to overcome. Louisville finished the season with a -12 turnover margin which ranked 118th in the nation.

Tight end Marshon Ford joins Cunningham on an offense that returns eight starters. Running backs Jalen Mitchell and Hassan Hall are expected to carry the load. Center Cole Bentley anchors an offensive line that returns four starters. The Cards averaged 200 rush yards per game last season; however, Satterfield has to replace two dynamic playmakers in receivers Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell.

Linebackers are the strength of a defense that lost six starters. Louisville saw vast defensive improvement a year ago. It allowed 26.6 points and 369 yards per game. The Cards surrendered just 189 pass yards a game; that number led the ACC. CJ Avery and Monty Montgomery will lead a second level that is formidable. Defensive back Russ Yeast (29 starts) transferred to Kansas State. The Cardinal defense will be looking to add production along its defensive front and fill personnel holes in the secondary.

Malik Cunningham is a dangerous threat every time he touches the football. The dynamic signal caller has to curtail turnovers if Louisville looks to improve in 2021. Losing running back Javian Hawkins will sting. Hawkins ran for 142 yards and a score in the last Governor’s Cup matchup.

What Does All This Mean? 

I realize that there is a small portion of the Big Blue Nation that wants to see the Cats take on another Power 5 opponent in its non-conference slate. I’d point to UK’s stretch of three consecutive games that include Florida, LSU, and at Georgia. All three are preseason Top-10 programs. Add Mizzou to that category and those opponents should suffice in the potential quality win grouping.

IF Louisville improves its -12 turnover margin, the Cardinals could see vast improvement. A season-ending matchup could prove to be a fun event for the Commonwealth; however, it must be noted that Kentucky has had its way in the rivalry by outscoring the Cards 101-23 in the last two contests. In addition, Kentucky has an 18-3 non-conference record over the past five seasons. UK’s last non-SEC loss came against Northwestern in the 2017 Music City Bowl.

Hurry up, football season.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

12 Comments for An Early Look At Kentucky Football’s 2021 Non-Conference Schedule

  1. ClutchCargo
    2:19 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

    Bevin looks like he’s about to show Josh Allen how it feels to get hit from the blind side. lol

  2. stx1968
    2:44 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

    I just think Stoops owes us a full schedule of good games if he’s going to collect raises and extensions for 7 wins.

    • neat1ky
      4:13 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

      Please what r smokin, we play an SEC schedule and do not need to add tougher non conference because it’s not our fault UL has tanked

    • stx1968
      4:31 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

      @neat1ky I dont disagree, but his incentives make it pretty easy for him to lock into mediocrity. He basically needs to go 3-5 in the league beat 3 cupcakes and UL’s corpse to trigger extensions and raises. He has not made up any ground on the top of the league, and he’s frankly treading water against the middle while UT/UF regroup from historic downturns and we get lapped by programs like Arkansas and Mizzou who somehow rebuild much faster than CMS. The contract makes it clear that this is good enough and the staggering lack of urgency on offense last year tells me he is completely comfortable where things are at. Maybe he wants to restructure his deal to trigger extensions/raises for league wins, I’d be fine with that too. But we aren’t going anywhere as things stand, we’re trapped by another terrible Mitch contract.

    • ClutchCargo
      4:46 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

      stx1968, you made some good points there, except the part about CMS being completely comfortable with where things are. If that was the case, why fire the OC and QB coach and go a different direction with the offense? Is he super conservative and resistant to change? Absolutely, but don’t confuse that with being satisfied with mediocrity.

    • stx1968
      5:55 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

      @clutch Maybe but I think his hand was forced. There was no excuse for that offensive staff finishing the season, it’s not like they had a track record of lighting up the board and it was clear there weren’t any new ideas or innovations coming from the HC. We didnt even try to change things up during the season.

    • Corder
      6:25 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

      You are way out there. This year was not a normal year and most coaches don’t drop and pick up an OC and try to develop a new system mid season. Not sure why you think stoops is good with where we are at when he has done way more then most coaches that have ever came through Kentucky. We have to give raises to coaches that do good because there are so many other programs out there that will swoop in and take him in a heart beat. You don’t seem very knowledgeable about our history nor football as a whole.

    • stx1968
      6:53 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

      @corder I think he’s “feasted” on an east that won’t stay down forever, and he’s shown no ability to make up ground in Georgia. I agree, he brought the program a long way. I don’t agree that he is the man to take us further, he seems to have hit his ceiling. His contract makes it clear that staying where we are is acceptable. Unfortunately, he is being compensated like a coach who would have higher expectations.

    • Beaver_Fever
      12:21 am June 10, 2021 Permalink

      Have to disagree with you, stx1968. Stoops is a stubborn man but he has made the changes he had to make. The UK football program is in the best position it’s ever been in. Period! Stoops’ biggest let down has been the QB position. We got solid QB play from a healthy Terry Wilson, beat Florida in the swamp and finished the year 10-3. UL showed the world how important the QB position is with the two NFL caliber QBs they had. What have they accomplished without a future NFL QB taking snaps? Nothing much. It’s not like Stoops hasn’t went after big QBs, it just hasn’t worked out yet. He has however, built one of the best defenses and O-lines in the SEC and the country for that matter. If he gets a future Pro taking snaps, Kentucky absolutely has the pieces to win the East.

  3. itsfootballtimeinthebluegrass
    4:12 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

    87 days

  4. Kat in GA
    6:17 pm June 9, 2021 Permalink

    The first thing the Kats could do to move up the ladder is get one of these pre-season neutral site power 5 matchups like the Chic fil a here in Atlanta. What about a UK-UVA matchup? UK-Duke? Maybe even a UK-UCLA? These made for TV matchups would be great for the brand and don’t necessary have to be ‘final four’ caliber teams to be of value.

    • beauleonard
      10:50 am June 10, 2021 Permalink

      I’d like to see that happen, for sure! I think success this year is pivotal in trying to make that a reality. A 9-10 win regular season advances those prospects dramatically.