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.
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.
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.